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I promised myself (and you, dear readers) that I would take a real summer vacation this year, and try my best to unplug from technology, from work, from my usual mode of media overload.

So last month I ventured back to St. Louis for five days to visit my family and friends where I grew up. I had a guest blogger, Henry Jenkins, lined up to fill in here at MediaShift, and all my other work was finished or put on hold.

The unwritten rule I had was not to work, but to relax and play during my visit. That was a sharp contrast from another trip I took to the Midwest a couple years ago, where I had to interview people by phone and write a column while visiting family. It was a mess trying to work in a chaotic environment where young kids and my extended family were all crammed into a house where the Internet connection was in the family room.

This time, I did get to relax and tried my best to keep my mind off of work. I got to visit some museums, try out new restaurants, go shopping, and even visited the new baseball stadium on one of the hottest days of the year (see my cameraphone photo, above).

But despite my best intentions, there were plenty of temptations to draw me back into the media world and my work. Among them:

  • My old bedroom from when I grew up was converted into an office space for my parents, complete with a small TV and broadband Internet connection. I could check email and the Net any time I had free time.
  • I just bought a new smart phone, the Sprint PPC-6700 made by UT Starcom, which has an always-on broadband connection to the Internet.
  • My dad often had the TV news on to find out the latest on the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah. Because the conflict was in its early days, there was a temptation to follow every detail.
  • When I did check in on the blog, I noticed some formatting problems with the guest blog posts, and really, really really wanted to fix them. “C’mon, it’ll only take a minute and I can fix it fast” was the rationale. I mainly abstained from intervening.

I decided that each day it was OK to spend five minutes checking email and looking in on the blog. But going beyond that was too much. I decided that I could watch some of the news, but tried to avoid becoming obsessed with it.

My results? I felt like I really did get to relax and clear my mind. Just taking a few minutes to check in on email didn’t feel like cheating, but rather kept my stress and worries away, because I was reassured that all was well in the virtual world. I got to play with my new phone-toy, and focused on its camera and videocamera features rather than the Internet access. For a geek, that’s play time.

Best of all, I could come back to work here in San Francisco with a fresh outlook, recharged and energized. OK, so I did end up reformatting the guest blog entries while I was away, and spending about 10 minutes doing that work one day. I have no regrets about it.

It’s really a balancing act taking a vacation in our hyper-connected world, and trying to unplug from the surrounding media din for even a few days. But I think it’s worth the effort and I recommend it to each of you who might feel overwhelmed and perhaps a little alarmed that you’re losing touch with yourself.

What do you think? Have you been connected or disconnected from work during your summer vacations? Do you still follow media stories with the same rigor while on vacation? How do you balance work and play on vacation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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