Interconnected or overconnected?
Assistant News Editor
As you can tell from the dateline, I'm filing this column from Raleigh-Durham International Airport. I've been in North Carolina for the past three days as I visited Duke University as part of the ongoing effort to figure out what I'm going to do after graduation.
After being without e-mail for three days, I was delighted to see a little shop in the airport called `LaptopLane' where, for $2 for the first five minutes and 38 cents for each additional minute, you can have a little cubicle with a door, a T1 cable and unlimited Internet access.
I sat down at one of the terminals and went through a three-day backlog of e-mail, thrilled that I could deal with my school work, reply to my friends and delete all the missives that the University offices like to send over the much-abused listservs while waiting for my flight.
I'm supposed to be on a mini-vacation, a chance not only to see Duke but to get away from Notre Dame and away from my responsibilities there. Instead, I'm sitting in an airport paying hard-earned money to e-mail people, as if it couldn't wait the six hours until I'm back in South Bend.
But why do I rejoice that I can e-mail people from an airport? Why do people have a right to expect an instant response from me? What exactly is so pressing that it couldn't wait until I get back? What is so important that it can't wait a few extra hours?
We're a 24-hour society now (and God knows I love 3 a.m. trips to Meijer as much as the next guy), and we demand that we be in constant contact with one another. "Tomorrow" or "later today" isn't good enough any more; everything has to be "right now." The rise of instant communication has made us demand instant access to everything. I can hardly wait the two minutes for my popcorn to pop in the microwave. Instant food, instant cash, instant communication. I hardly have to plan ahead to go on vacation any more; if it's a first-world country (and yes, technically North Carolina is part of the first world), there are ATMs and 24-hour stores, and they take credit cards. That's all you really need.
Convenient but sad. We're so focused on speed that not only do we forget to slow down and smell the proverbial roses, but we push ourselves so hard that as a society we're becoming more stressed, more tired, more overworked all the time.
These time-saving devices may be saving us time, but they're also raising the expectations about the amount of work we do. (I wonder, sometimes, how many 10-page papers were assigned per semester when those papers had to be written by hand.) We end up doing our work more quickly, but our reward is not more time but simply more work.
I admit I'm an access addict. I want my news 24-hours. I want my e-mail all the time. I get annoyed when people don't have voice mail. But I'm trying to cut back. I've started ignoring the phone in my room when it rings and I'm busy — people can leave a message — and trying to reduce my e-mail dependence.
It isn't easy.
But when IÕm willing to pay 38 cents a minute to sit in an airport and write this column rather than wait until I get back to campus at 8 oÕclock tonight, something is wrong. I need a break, and instead, I'm connected.
All Inside Stories for Monday, April 17, 2000