Vacations: Unplugged or Plugged In?

With vacation season in full swing this headline from Tech Dirt about the “stupidity” of taking a laptop while on vacation caught my eye. It includes a link to a story out of the UK where a top psychologist warns that the whole laptop on vacation trend is going to spell doomsday for relationships among spouses, families and friends. Also, a Harris Survey poll revealed that about a third of Americans lug the hardware with them while on vacation.

I often waffle on the great laptop dilemma the day before we leave for vacation on what is worse: angering my wife for a few hours for bringing the laptop along or feeling out of touch with my clients or co-workers for five or more days. As a business owner and “boss” I feel the need to be connected, but never expect my employees to do the same. I know I’d hate to have a boss looking over my shoulder when he or she was supposed to be on the slopes, the beach or the cruise ship so I certainly take that into consideration each and every time I pack up the gear for a week of R&R. For me, a few minutes of email every day or so while enjoying my morning coffee or a late afternoon cocktail gives me peace of mind for an entire day or two. I also like the idea of knocking down emails a few at a time instead of coming back to a clogged inbox the “Monday After” which is enough to make one forget a vacation really quickly.

Last month we spent a week on the beach on Cape Cod and the laptop came with us (and so did the smart phone but that is obviously so less obtrusive). I rationalized this in two ways: 1) my kids want to entertain themselves on YouTube and other sites so it wasn’t all about Dad working away the vacation. The laptop has become a “family” accessory and was used to look up movie reviews, view and send pictures, get directions and the like as much as it was to read emails or spreadsheets.

2) I purposely left the power cord at home, ensuring that we’d only spend five hours out of the whole seven days checking email, surfing the Web, etc. Guess what? It worked fabulously. Everyone felt slightly connected but no one felt ignored, alienated, overworked, underappreciated or trapped by technology.

What are your plans for summer vacation – laptop or no laptop? I suppose the Blackberry, iPhone, PDA or smart phone might render that question a bit moot. But how do you unplug? Is it getting harder? Are we really that important? Did your spouse threaten to leave you because you packed your iMac along with the sun block and beach towels? If you take the laptop do you feel trapped by your job and find yourself in need of a “vacation” when you get back? Are you sneaking off to check email in the middle of the night? Do you agree with Professor Cooper’s findings?

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