A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

As chronicled in previous posts, I have ditched the smartphone in favor of a much dumber one and sold the laptop so the desktop at work is my only proper computer. As intended, I now no longer have emails and notices buzzing in my pocket or my entire work life on my back. Since I have no other computer at home, I decided on an iPad for leisure and the as-needed, if limited remote working device.

For me, the iPad isn't as paradoxical as an Amish electric fireplace.

When I first shared this idea following announcing my intention to back away from the bleeding edge of technology, a lot of friends questioned the reasoning. The refrain was that I was rationalizing a desire for a new toy that represented everything I was trying to reduce in my life. I disagreed and still do.

First of all, The Off Switch isn’t about being anti-technology. While I am an advocate of wandering out into the woods with nothing to connect you, I have no interest in making that a daily pursuit. In other words, I never sought to spend my off hours whittling or tending to the garden— per se. Rather, what I sought was freedom from the interruptions and the ever-present workload, while still being able to access the best parts of technology in an additive and selective way.

Let me also say that when the iPad first came out, I didn’t want one. At the time, I had an iPhone and a MacBook and the were just no more waking hours into which I could shoehorn yet another svelte, intuitive iDevice. At the time, in a note to a few techie friends, I did postulate that the iPad might be an iPhone killer if there we’re a way to push VOIP calls to it, which ultimately there was. But even then, I was longing for an escape.

Like many pundits, I saw what the iPad wasn’t and how it could not compare to my computer: lack of multi-tasking, too small of a screen, no Flash, relatively small memory, hard to type on, and inability to handle many of the software platforms on which I’d become reliant. Of course, these were exactly the limitations that made it the perfect thing for my new world view. For me, the iPad is now just enough: just enough capability, just enough size, and just enough happening at any one time… one.

The way the iPad is working into my life is as follows. At home, it is a countertop or couch-time message reader or web surfer, but not

Gramercy's wee Sling bag. I put my dumb phone in that clear pocket which has the added bonus of getting it off my person.

something I can work on fully. I grab it on the way to work and only some meetings and it usually never comes out. When it does, it might be a note taking device or a visual aid, but unlike the way that laptops at a meeting are like a game of Battleship (hey, what are you doing over there?), I feel like the iPad is relatively unassuming when not in use. I’ve only got wi-fi access on it, so it doesn’t buzz and beep nor is there much of a temptation to whip it out at an intersection. Upon returning home, it stays in the bag until the kid is asleep, then comes out for a little light browsing, news, and maybe e-reading. I write this blog on it, for instance.

Of course, it is a seductive little thing. The trick for me is forming new habits and being ever-conscious of my use. I try to only download apps that are useful and non-distracting (and any non-utility apps are tucked in a folder called “distractions”). I try to put it away when I’m done with it rather than reaching for it during commercials or breaks in the conversation. And when I do bring it to bed, I do my best to stay off social networks, email (I turn work email off when I leave the office), and tons of web browsing. The jury is still out on whether it belongs in that time at all.

As for the word “need,” allow me to explain. Certainly, I do not need leisure web time – although I don’t care to spend productive work time goofing off in that way. When I’m ‘off duty’ I still like to read news and email friends and do some very light Facebooking. And I see no conflict in that. Where the need comes in is with my work. My wife and I have owned our business for about 5 years and as it is a PR/branding/design client services agency, there are some inherently time sensitive communications that must happen as a function of my role. I do most of the business development and a good share of the PR, so that means that while most things can wait until I’m at my desk or can be handled by phone, certain things can’t.

Enter the iPad. For me, it has been the perfect solution because I can usually anticipate those urgent situations and then I just grab it on the way out the door. With an Internet connection and sometimes a wireless keyboard, I can pound out some pretty decent work in the field and then I can get back to whatever else I was doing. Of course, the trick is to leave it tucked away when I have a few minutes to kill and I know there’s Internet available.

So, the dumb phone, the desktop computer, and the iPad are my imperfect family of gadgets. What I like is that each one serves it’s purpose, but I can leave it behind when I’m done. The thing in my pocket, the thing on my desk, and the thing on the couch are each available—but not excessively so. And to me, that’s just perfect.

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