Online in the Ozarks

October 23, 2006 Todd Underwood

After just spending a month of virtually non-stop travelling for work, I began to reminisce about the last actual vacation I took, and to wonder just how different it was.

Cast your thoughts back to the late-summer. The afternoon was finally cooling off, two-year-old Agatha was blissfully asleep in the bedroom, people were enjoying themselves at the pool right next to our cabin and on water skis down on the lake, and I was catching up on email. Sigh.

Such are the joys of the Internet. As network connectivity marches steadily towards ubiquity, there is a palpable loss. I suffer less from this than most people in that I enjoy my work and manage to integrate it (mostly) successfully into my daily life and even my vacations. But I have to admit that it was with mixed feelings that I saw the “Wifi now available” on the office door at Gobblers Mountain Resort. One more connection made. One more refuge lost. There are definitely down sides to all of this networking stuff.

Every August, my father’s side of my family get together for a week near Branson, Missouri. It’s a great opportunity for Agatha, now almost two years old, to get to know a lot of her family at once. Plus, I’m one of those odd and fortunate people who actually likes his family. Yes, some of us are hicks from the midwest. Go ahead and poke fun, you coastal elites. But not a single marriage in my family has involved cousins or anything (shudder) more proximal.

Gobblers is a simple (affordable) setup right on Table Rock Lake. The cabins have kitchens, air conditioners and porches. It’s a great set up for a large extended family to spend some time together while not having to be too together, if you know what I mean. Last year and the year before, connectivity was limited to 1xRTT access on Sprint’s network. Before that, some people used dial-up over mobile analog voice call (at speeds and call reliability that would make any self-respecting networker cry). Before that, we felt lucky to have any mobile voice service at all.

I’m not saying anything new when I report that there was something nice about being mostly (or completely) out of touch for a week. Decompression was more complete. Attention for family was better. But there were definitely trade-offs. In exchange for a week without connectivity, I traded a week’s worth of email and most of a week’s worth of important projects saved up and ready for me the second that I got back. The technological and organizational whiplash mostly obviated the relaxational effects of the vacation.

Universal connectivity isn’t bad, of course, just different. This summer I was able to check my email daily and nightly. I read and voted on submissions for the NANOG 38 program and participated in a NANOG Program Committee conference call to finalize selection of talks. I was able to avoid most of the work most of the time and I don’t think my family (nuclear or extended) noticed or minded too much. Agatha takes very long naps every afternoon and someone had to hang out near the cabin while she was sleeping. When I returned from vacation, there was precious little email and only a modest amount of work to catch up on.

The jury is still out on whether this whole “working all the time, everywhere” idea is a good idea or not. But as connectivity becomes ubiquitous, the point becomes moot. As we are reachable, we communicate. And as we communicate, we work. The key is to integrate that work in a balanced fashion with other aspects of your life. And to really, really love your work.

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