The day was absolutely perfect. My family and I arrived on the island of Santorini in the middle of the Aegean Sea. If you have never been to this little piece of paradise, I encourage you to do so.
Sculpted out of one of the earth’s largest-known volcanoes more than 3,500 years ago, Santorini is a small archipelago off the coast of Greece. Layers upon layers of different-color lava rock form ledges of terrain filled with cascading villas leading downward to the ocean. The views from the whitewashed-stone terraces are spectacular, and the sunsets are breathtaking.
My wife and I, as well as our three children, were making our escape to the island. But the day wasn’t to be as perfect as I thought. Despite having physically escaped Ontario, there was still a chunk of me that couldn’t leave. I hadn’t checked my email in more than 48 hours, and I was about to go crazy.
All those important messages and pieces of information that I fictionalized in my head were sitting in my inbox unattended. But there was another problem: on this exquisite Greek island, amidst the lavish beaches and gentle breeze, I couldn’t get any reception on my BlackBerry. How was I going to find out what I was missing? I needed information, and I had been cut off. I was severed from the digital world!
“Daddy, come play soccer with me,” Charlie, my older son, begged, tapping on my leg.
“Hold on,” I replied. “Give me just a second. I’m trying to get some stock market quotes off my phone.” “Let’s search for seashells, Daddy,” came another request from Dino, my younger son. “Can my dolly swim with us?” piped in my daughter, Tia Maria. “Nick,” my wife Stacy called from a few yards away, “what are you doing? Let’s take a walk down the beach and catch the sunset.”
“Just a second, everybody,” I said, trying to buy some time. “I think I am getting a signal. I will be done soon.”
I missed the sunset, regarded as one of the most romantic in the world. I missed an opportunity to play soccer, collect seashells and swim in the water. I lost these precious moments with my family on one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
For what? For the endless search of knowledge. Or, better yet, for the need to quench my incessant addiction to information. I was held hostage by digital chains. I was craving my data fix as if it were air, food and water, yet in the process I failed to balance the most important things in my life.
Think back to the mid-1960s. Steel workers would go to the factory when the whistle blew. At day’s end, the whistle would blow again, signaling time to go home. At night the workers would spend time with their families and then enjoy some leisurely pursuits.
But when does the whistle blow today? Honestly, the whistle blows only if we shut off our smartphones. Most of us have more attentive relationships with our BlackBerrys than with our spouses and friends.
The first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we do before going to bed is check our inboxes. Is it absolutely necessary that we take a quick glimpse just to make sure some juicy piece of information didn’t come across that might suddenly change our lives?
Digital devices have crossed all boundaries, and some of us can’t live without them. While we suffer from the dangers of a “crackberry” addiction, how do we achieve a healthy work-life balance?
There I was, ignoring the things that should have been important to me in exchange for the promises of a handheld device.
On one end of the spectrum, I was surrounded by the genesis of civilized culture amidst the azure waters of the Aegean Sea, and on the other end I stood with my BlackBerry raised to the sky, trying to get a signal.
Is this what my ancient Greek forefathers envisioned?
Nick Bontis is the author of Information Bombardment: Rising Above the Digital Onslaught, from which this column was excerpted. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.