Where Am I? I’m on Vacation, I Think.


Where am I? I’m on vacation, I think. Am I? Yes, I am on vacation!

My SCUP colleague, John Ferry, showed up at work one day last month with his head shaved for the summer. That’s not unexpected, we’ve hit the heat wave time of the year in Michigan and he’s heavily involved in outdoor athletic activities. But this was the first time we’d seen him without his hair and also with the Bluetooth-enabled wireless earpiece for his cell phone, a clunky-looking thing that sticks out over his right ear and blinks constantly.

Here it is, only 2005, and I work with someone who looks as much like a cyborg as did Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator movie. Every once in a while, now, I remember that he’s got that thing stuck on his ear and even though he’s “right there” across my desk, before I speak I have to ask myself: “Where is John right now.”

Yes, he’s right there. But he might be on the phone, too. I can’t always tell by looking. Years ago my office dialup shared the same phone line as our fax machine and I was required to put a little sign up by the machine whenever I went on line, so that other staff would not waste time trying to send a fax. Maybe he needs a little sign?

Where is my body? Where is my attention? Where am I having an impact on getting things done? Those are not all the same things any more. Nowadays the answer to: “Where am I right now?” is not always obvious. I could give you the GPS coordinates, and that’s one answer. Another is the one we used to play with in our minds as children: Planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, and so forth.

The first time I really noticed that I was with people who weren’t really there was a few years ago, before I had a cell phone, when I was in one of those chain-reaction fender-benders. You know, someone slams into someone else, who slams into someone else, etc. The lady behind me slammed me into the car in front of me. So, a police officer arrives and within moments the lady behind me is on the phone to her husband, the fellow in front of me is on the phone to his office, and the police officer is on the phone to headquarters.

I was standing there at the scene of the accident, wondering where was that connection to others that used to happen in these situations, and was I the only person there who was really there. It was quite disconcerting.

This week I’m on vacation. What that means is that I am relaxing around my house, only working 3-4 hours a day instead of 9-10. And I do find it frustrating to be relatively disconnected from the rest of the world. Well, I’m not disconnected, really, I just don’t have broadband.

I have to admit it, the fast pace of all our communications makes it difficult to actually remain disconnected for a week. How can you create an expectation among hundreds of widespread colleagues and acquaintances that you’re going to be unplugged from so many things for seven days? Many of my colleagues find that a bit tyrannical, and I do understand that view. But I do not want to be disconnected.

Even though I am only 6.3 driving miles from my office on the edge of the University of Michigan central campus (probably less than 4 miles as the crows fly, and they do fly each day from the U-M golf course to spots around here), I live on a rural dirt road without cable and am stuck dialing up with my Treo when I am home. To top that off, we are on the edge of a cell and I can watch the little bars grow and shrink and kick me offline approximately once every ten minutes.

I like the fact that John just IM’d me about our Southern Region’s email newsletter and that another colleague, Betty Cobb, also just IM’d me sharing her success at getting the final sponsor for SCUP’s 2005 Campus Sustainability Day. I also just sent the editor at Campus Technology my picks, by email, for news items for this issue of IT Trends and I’ll shortly send him this brief essay.

At the same time, I am sitting in my old farmhouse’s airy front porch, watching the corn and soybeans grow over to the north and groups of horses wander to and fro at the boarding farm which I can see about 1,000 feet off to the west down past the end of the fairway for Hole 9 of my private disc golf course.

Speaking of which, as I sit on my rural porch, I am also drafting the next issue of PDGA Member News (Professional Disc Golf Association) and watching the chain of emails as our PDGA Disciplinary Committee resolves an issue of alleged cheating during a major tournament in Des Moines, Iowa a few weeks ago. I’m debating my response to a choice of times, just presented by email, for a face to face retreat of a United States Green Building Council committee. (Let’s see, Chicago in August or Seattle in September, hmmm.) Later today, I might put on my (wired) headphone for my Treo and join a conference call with people at other associations and the EPA about a conference in Maryland in November.

I’m also watching the weather with my browser, because my wife and I are likely to go canoing along the Huron River later this afternoon. And out-of-town friends are on their way over to play my course momentarily.

So, where am I? My answer is that I am in heaven on Earth: I am where I want to be, picking and choosing my priorities about how to spend my time, but not tremendously disconnected from anything or anywhere or anyone I might want to be connected to.

Sounds like heaven to me. Now, if only heaven had broadband!

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