Each summer, my family journeys to Martha’s Vineyard from our middle class New Jersey suburb for our annual vacation. We now spend three weeks during the summer in an effort to enjoy the bucolic surroundings of this Island in an attempt to forget the daily grind and recharge our batteries. I’m responsible for having increased the length of our stay, trying to heal the emotional scars of my youth that have been left raw due to my lack of a two-month summer vacation from school. Despite my efforts, I can’t seem to recapture those glory days.
Each year, I lie awake at night in our rented vacation house after a day of conference calls or reviewing and editing documents pondering whether our prolonged trip is fulfilling the so-called purpose of vacation. With the advent of Blackberrys, and now the new and improved smartphones, which seem to send and receive data faster than the speed of light, does anyone actually recharge their batteries anymore? Sure, I wake up every day after another fitful night of sleep to go for a run or play some tennis. But it would be sacrilegious for me not to check my emails before and after my hour of recharge. From that point on, barely minutes go by before I feel the need to electronically check in with the world. Although I can only surmise, I’m sure that is what an addict must feel like before his next hit. And when I hear the well-known buzz of an incoming email or text, I feel gratified that I have instantaneously picked up the message, even if it is just an advertisement for back to school sales. A chocolate chip ice cream cone doesn’t seem to have the same medicinal effect anymore. Does anyone in the working world really remember what it was like not to be so connected?
It has gotten to the point where if I don’t respond to an email or text within minutes, I feel as if I’m just outright rude. And who wants that reputation? Or, suppose one doesn’t respond to an email for a day. Other than you passed away, the only potential excuse for such an egregious act is that someone stole your phone. It is the 21st century version of the dog ate my homework. We have become the child generation — one that needs, at the very least, instant acknowledgement. We crave instant gratification, but at this electronic warp speed, we’ll take what we can get.
Years ago, families went on vacation. Vacation used to mean that you left your home so that you could relax and get away from it all. Now vacation means you take your laptop, iPhone, iPad or the latest electronic wizardry even if it should be to a galaxy far, far away, so that you can do your work in a more relaxed environment. Heaven forbid, you are out of phone or email touch for more than an hour. I’m not sure, but I believe the world would come to an end if that should ever come to pass.
Recently, I decided to conduct an experiment as I walked the streets of Manhattan during lunch — of course, having my newest iPhone in my firm grasp just in case someone tried to contact me. I decided to see how high I could count before I saw someone talking on their phone or typing away on their mobile device. Having only gotten to three, I was certain it was a data point outlier and attempted another test run. This time I counted to two before multiple cellphone users passed me on my stroll. When did we become so important that we can only go minutes, if that, without communicating to someone?
It has become the norm in my town that the rite of passage to your tenth birthday is that you become connected to the telecom network through one of Steve Jobs’ collaborations. It is the 21st century electronic version of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Connect to the pod-like flowing data network, or be ostracized by your peers.
And yet, I’m conflicted by this extreme technology advance from the days of my youth. My mobile gadgetry has allowed me to work from virtual offices around the world. But most importantly, it has allowed me to work from home on those lazy Fridays in the summer when I don’t feel like commuting into Manhattan. It also gives me the opportunity to see my son in living color when he attends college out of state this fall. I have to admit that I like to know how my Knicks are doing through my multiple sports apps. But where does this leave me?
Hold on, I need to take this call.
Lee A. Goldberg lives in Wayne, New Jersey. He and his family have come to the Vineyard for the past 18 summers. They rent a townhouse at Mattakesett near South Beach. He is co-founder of Goldberg Cohen, a law firm specializing in intellectual property and based in New York City.