The following is an excerpt from Information Bombardment: Rising above the digital onslaught. It is reprinted here with permission from the publisher.
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 do so if you get the chance. 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 glistening views from the whitewashed-stone terraces are spectacular, and the sunsets over the volcanic caldera are breathtaking. It has always been one of my most favourite places in the world.
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 e-mail in over forty-eight hours, and I was about to go crazy. All those important messages and pieces of information that I fictionalized in my head were simply 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 without connectivity? 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 apex of the industrial era circa the mid-1960s. Steel workers would go to the factory when the whistle blew. At day’s end, the whistle would blow again, signalling them 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 mobiles than we do with our spouses and friends.
“Good morning, my love. Do you have any e-mails or alerts for me this morning? How’s your battery, sweetheart? Are you feeling well connected?”
The first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we do before going to bed are check our inboxes. Is it absolutely necessary that we yearn for 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 of our lives, 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?
Santorini is actually thought by some historians to be the long-lost island of Atlantis that was written about by Plato in the fourth century BC. A tremendous volcanic eruption left only an island remnant of what was once a thriving Minoan civilization. But eventually Hellenization spread back into the area, and great thinkers and philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates dreamed of a flourishing utopian society that would be the genesis of civilization. They sought knowledge and wisdom, or what the Greeks referred to as sophos, believing this was the key to progress.
Yet 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?
Dr. Nick Bontis (NickBontis.com, @NickBontis) is a professional speaker, management consultant, award-winning business professor at McMaster University, and author of the book Information Bombardment: Rising above the digital onslaught (InformationBombardment.com).