Some time ago, one of my children asked me to explain what an oxymoron is, and I scrambled to find a good example. Well the title of this blog is a good one. Or is it?
Years ago as Ph.D. students in Jerusalem in the mid-1990s, my spouse and I were among the very bottom percentile of technology-driven Israelis–we did not own a cell phone. I find myself reminiscing about the time when I took the shuttle bus from the Hadassah Medical Center parking lot to my laboratory building, and as usual the bus was packed like a can of sardines and I was hanging on to a seat for dear life. Cell phones were becoming very popular, and there were two men standing on either side of me shouting away into their phones, and intermittently shouting at each other to “shut up so I can hear”. I actually ended up breaking up the developing pushing/shoving fight between the two of them, and thinking to myself that I never want one of these contraptions that seem to ‘dehumanize’ people. Does technology ‘dehumanize’ people? There is a wonderful series of photographs published in Carl Zeiss’ semi-annual “Innovation” booklet entitled “Love in the time of the internet”; particularly the one entitled “Digital Blind Date” that seemed to sum up my fears…
But I pride myself on my ability to adapt, to learn new tricks, and not to fear the advance of technology–in the lab and in my personal life. So when we arrived in Rockville, Maryland here in the US for post-doctoral studies, with a 3 month old baby, we realized that it would be extremely helpful to have a mobile phone. After all, we did not want to get stranded on a highway somewhere with the old car we were barely able to purchase.
As we moved to Omaha, Nebraska to take on faculty positions about 7 years ago, we found it useful to expand our plan to include a second mobile phone; after all, we now had two motor vehicles and two children, and instant contact became a necessary fact of life. With a daughter who has just begun middle school, has after school activities and rehearsals, we recently found a third line quite useful.
About 2 years ago, a friend and colleague of mine suggested that I get a “Blackberry”. I looked at him like he was crazy. After all, I work all day and half the night in front of a screen, have wireless internet at home, and seem to be “always in contact” with my lab and with work. Journals, grant agencies, students. Do I not deserve a little “quality time” without being online 24/7?
Well, I thought about it–as I noted earlier, one of my
many few attributes is that I can be convinced, when a good argument is put forth. I am not afraid to admit I am wrong (but don’t tell anyone…). I decided to give it a try.
To my surprise and satisfaction (now 2.5 years later), I found that the immediate access to e-mail (and now Twitter and even Occam’s Typewriter) did not drive me crazy. In fact, on my first vacation, a series of hikes and travels through some of the beautiful parks in the Pacific Northwest (and a visit to Cath’s beloved Vancouver), I found that the Blackberry–hooked directly to my university e-mail–provided me with a great deal of relief and comfort at knowing that I could stay “in the loop” and be able to respond to any arising crisis in my lab. Why didn’t I realize this earlier?
Such was the case when last week I spent 6 days in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico– a beautiful place for a vacation (admittedly not our first choice as we are not “beach people”, but chosen for a variety of personal reasons). As my children played in the sand, I would wander up and down the beach, answering e-mails, making sure things were going smoothly back in the lab, and I was even able to publish my most recent blog, “Regression to the mean” from my Blackberry sitting by the pool after coming out from a swim.
Have I lost my freedom? I don’t think so. On the outings we were able to arrange, dolphin swims for the kids, “zip-lining” over the jungle canopy, and the best–bird watching, the Blackberry was silent or away in a locker (did not want to drop it several hundred meters into the jungle below). So was this really “a working vacation”? Or was I able to relax more, knowing that I am in easy contact?
Below are a few of the wonderful sights we saw. In future blogs I hope to go back and post images from other recent trips to central America (Belize and Costa Rica), and eventually older trips to S. America.
One more: Who am I?