Voices of Digital Communities


What does a plugged-in person do for rest and relaxation? The question occurs to me as I drive north with my wife on vacation.  ...

by / August 5, 2009
What does a plugged-in person do for rest and relaxation?

The question occurs to me as I drive north with my wife on vacation.  She and her family have been "summer people" on the coast of Maine for generations, and this is my fourth decade of going yearly to the same little village near Acadia National Park.  It combines the exotic pleasures of vacationing in a beautiful spot with the familiar pleasures of being at home.

Three years ago at this summer retreat, we had access to the Internet at only dial-up speeds.  To get a signal on your mobile phone, you went outside and found a place with reasonable line-of-sight to a tower six miles across the bay.  Now there's broadband at the village library, the local bed-and-breakfast and in the cabin where we stay.  There's a new cell tower somewhere nearby and signal strength is excellent.  Laptops are everywhere and people use their mobile phones in all the little ways they do at home: to coordinate and rendezvous, check what's for dinner and find out if they need more milk from the store. 

Before leaving, I had a conversation with a woman who marveled that I was taking a whole two weeks off.  (I can hear my friends in continental Europe chuckling.)  She said that she never took more than a week off at a time.  "The river runs so fast," she said in a brief flight of poetic fancy, "you just can't get out of it and sit on the bank.  You have to dabble your feet in the stream."

And I will be dabbling: checking email, writing for this blog, posting to social networks, editing our next book.  I will be living the broadband life.  The usual complaint about the broadband life is that work invades leisure and family time.  We are always plugged in, rarely focused on the here-and-now, never entirely at our ease.  All true - but perhaps not the whole story.  In the last chapter of our book Broadband Economies , I wrote about the fact that we see the negative impacts of the web more clearly than the positive impacts.  Whether it is cyberstalking or compulsive online shopping, it is behavior we recognize.  But we fail to recognize the many positive impacts on our lives, because we do not yet know what to look for.

I suspect the same is true on holiday.  If you are over the age of 30, you did not grow up with these technologies.  You don't have the knack for integrating broadband and IT into a special time set aside for rest, reflection and recharging your sense of wonder.  There are good things about it as well as bad.  The trick is figure out how to maximize the good and minimize the bad.  As a seriously plugged-in person over the age of 30, I will see if I can do it - and I'll let you know how it goes. 

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.