Modern Nomads

By Beacon Staff

The subhead on special section in last week’s The Economist read: “Wireless communication is changing the way people work, live, love and relate to places—and each other.”

At first glance the story premise seemed liked a, “Well, duh,” sort of idea. Of course technology has changed how we communicate. The signs are all around us – people going to public places, not to gather with others, but to sit with iPod ear buds in place staring at their laptops; parents working on their Blackberries at kids’ soccer games; teens using “mosquito” ring-tones that adults can’t even hear.

But, the story turned out to be one of those interesting looks at the seemingly obvious: Sure, we know communication is changing us, but how often do we take an introspective look at how it’s affecting our lives?

The story uses the metaphor of a nomad to describe our tech-filled society. But, unlike the traditional view of nomads, this generation isn’t just about making physical journeys. “Even if an urban nomad confines himself to a small perimeter, he nonetheless has a new and surprisingly different relationship to time, to place and to other people,” the article said. It’s our connectivity that’s made our world today increasingly mobile.

With all the good and convenience that connectivity brings to our life, there’s a darker side, too, the article’s author, Andreas Kluth, said. “Nomadism increases productivity–you get more done. With it comes an addictive behaviour that also occurs in gambling. There is a random pattern of awards, you never know when it pays out, so you keep going.”

When I recently went shopping to upgrade my phone – after two years, the old one had been dropped a few too many times – I found a Blackberry model that I liked. But, as I listened to the salesperson give me a pitch on how I could always check my email, always be online, and never miss a beat, I was somewhat surprised to find myself balking at the thought of perma-connectivity. I left the store with a simple model – the same one my technology-challenged mother uses.

Perhaps, even for a person who is tech-savvy and relies on these communications daily, there’s a point where you want to put the brakes on; where you want to be unreachable, if even for a moment, or to actually communicate in person.

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