July 30, 2012

Shit – there are no available outlets.” This is the thought that kicked-off my recent trip to London while still in Seattle. I arrived at gate S12 twenty minutes before my flight boarded knowing I could get a last bit of work done before being forced into Internet-darkness on the 9-hour British Airways flight. Mac charger in hand I circled the terminal looking for a place to plug in; they’d all been taken. For dramatic effect I could say I panicked, but that wouldn’t exactly be true. While in no way was I on the verge of a meltdown, I did catch myself going from a Level 1 stress-point to a Level 5 because I couldn’t find a place to charge my MacBook, which by the way was already 98% charged. For a moment I thought about visiting a gate far from my plane or scouring the floor/walls of an airport muffin shop in search of power outlet, and at that same moment I thought “what is wrong with you?”  Well according to the New York Times I’m perfectly normal since it appears the new normal means addicted to tech.  Is it tech we’re addicted to or work? Chicken or the egg?

Tech addiction is receiving a lot of attention and is often inextricably tied to work and our increasing need to feel connected, productive, share everything, and multitask during each hour we’re awake. Do you sleep with your phone next to you? I do. Do you check email before your head hits the pillow? I do. When you wake – do you check email before your feet hit the ground? I do. And apparently so do millions of people just like us.  Is this unhealthy? Is it an addiction or a way of life? That answer depends on the individual. For me I’d put myself in the camp like smokers who say “I can quit anytime I want – I just choose not too.” And like smokers who find the nearest place they can light up, we tech addicts are constantly on the lookout for power outlets and WiFi.

My travel companion

Much of what’s being discussed around tech addiction are the effects of the addiction; it’s not the cigarette it’s the cancer.  The cancer ranges from lost productivity, anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder, and sleepless nights (sounds like the symptoms associated with tech PR). I was surprised to not find mention in any of the recent articles how technology has set us free, allowing us to finally be in two places at one time; at a baseball game and on a con-call – or – at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and responding to reporter emails.

In a piece in The Atlantic Alexis Madrigal asks “Are we addicted to gadgets or indentured to work?”  He argues blaming the gadgets for our 24 hour workday would be like factory workers blaming the clocks for their long days.  In the NYT article, Matt Richtel talks with Silicon Valley folk who worry about addictions to gadgets. Richtel comments “But hearing it from leaders at many of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, who profit from people spending more time online, can sound like auto executives selling muscle cars while warning about the dangers of fast acceleration.” 

I believe for us in the tech industry we could debate either side of this argument; blame the gadgets or blame the work. Or we could just suck it up and accept that it is what it is and move on. It’ll be interesting to see how this conversation plays out, if more tech detox centers open, and if we continue to search for the elusive balance in the digital age. Until then, if you’re looking for a place to plug in, Starbucks has an ample supply of outlets and if you’re in Seattle at SeaTac Airport there is a cluster of outlets outside the ladies restrooms, beside the shoe-shine stand at the S gates, next to the vending machines; 5 beautiful outlets that accommodate larger sized power cords. Ahh.



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