Even Summer Vacation is High Tech
Summer vacations used to be a time to disconnect – figuratively and literally. The office phone, the desktop computer, the home video games, etc. could all be escaped and forgotten by walking outside or taking a vacation. However, in an increasingly connected world, disconnecting is more difficult because even cars, books and game systems are Internet-enabled. Additionally, smartphones and tablets have made it possible to bring work nearly everywhere. While this can help avoid the inevitable e-mail overload on the first day back from vacation, it does create the expectation that we're always “plugged in” to what's happening in the office.
Here is just a sample list of some of the ways we remain tethered to technology even on Summer vacation:
Connected cars: It's more than just a navigation system suction-cupped to the windshield. Today's cars increasingly come equipped (or can be easily modified to include) full, Internet-enabled “infotainment” systems. These systems include advanced navigation and safety features, but also incorporate Internet connectivity to provide entertainment (music, videos, etc.) and other information services, like nearby restaurants (with customer ratings), attractions, gas stations, etc. Drivers and passengers can also get stock and sports scores delivered to them, and keep up with social networks. Being in a car is rapidly becoming just like being on the living room couch. Gone are the need for car games or the need to take in the sites as they wiz by. We're always connected on the Summer road trip.
Connected homes: Homes have been connected to the outside world for generations, but today that connection is expanding beyond just television and the Internet. Home utilities and appliances are leveraging the 4G LTE wireless network to communicate with power companies and service departments – providing data that helps improve efficiency and uptime and offers money-saving opportunities for business consumers and businesses. This includes “smart” heating and cooling solutions which monitor both individual household and whole grid use patterns to provide more efficient heating and cooling solutions and alleviate stress on the grid during peak hours or days. And this information can be communicated to owners even if they are away from home. And owners can address any issues remotely as well – controlling the thermostat or lights remotely. Similarly, some home appliances are now able to “notify” owners regarding recalled parts, regularly scheduled maintenance, etc. A vacation away used to provide an escape from the house (the phone, the neighbors, the mail, etc.) but now it's nearly impossible to get away from the house itself!
Connected Everywhere: Next time you go to a beach, pool, park, ballgame or other outside event count the number of people on their smartphone. Then count the number of tablets or e-readers. Again, high-speed wireless networks have improved access to information but they have also limited the ability to “get away from it all.” E-mail, social media, the Internet – it all comes with us and intrudes on Summer fun (to be fair, it can occasionally enhance fun as well). Summer used to be described as “lazy” but now every moment of downtime – in the car, waiting in line for ice cream, sitting on the beach – can be filled with a digital distraction. Each moment can be productive, even as we strive to “relax.” There is no “out of the office.” The office (or home or teams or clubs) come with us on vacation.
There is no doubt technology has improved our lives – from medical advancements, to improved communication, to exploration and education. However, living in a more connected world, and a world with more connected devices, makes it more difficult to break away from those connections during Summer vacation. It's not impossible, but doing so requires discipline and planning and in the end it may not improve the quality of our time away.