What are the personal impacts of your digital immersion?

digital immersion

By Mark Schaefer

Do you remember when the digital age became part of your DNA?  Can you recall the moment your social media “on” switch flipped for good?

As a young media relations professional right out of college, part of my first job was to compile relevant industry news stories every single day for an executive summary that was faxed around the world (remember … no email in the 1980s!).

I literally had to read through dozens of PAPER newspapers and magazines and TYPE my summary into a state-of-the-art word processor, which had just replaced electronic typewriters. It was a painstaking process.

And yet, that job had its advantages. When I was home, I was home. No cell phone. No computers. No email. No business connections whatsoever unless I brought some paper journals home with me to catch up on some reading. And best of all, when I needed to, it was possible to “hide” from your boss!

Tethered

I vividly remember the moment I accepted my permanent connection to the digital tether.

Around 1989, I got my first laptop and cell phone. With a sudden jolt, I was thrust into a world of 24 x 7 accessibility. This was particularly relevant because I was living in Los Angeles — three time zones away from my boss. With this new electronic connection, my working hours were instantly extended by at least 50 percent each day.

I was working in sales at the time and was embroiled in a devastating product quality crisis with my most important customer. Perhaps I was weakened by the long-term stress of the customer situation, or maybe it was just bad luck, but at the time I got my first laptop I became extremely ill with strep throat … probably the most sick I had ever been in my life.

Digital immersion and personal freedom

Although I was feverish and could barely stay upright, I persisted working from my home (an entirely new concept) when I was too sick to go into the office. Despite the illness I cranked out urgent computer reports to my boss on the other side of the country as I facilitated a solution to the quality problem.

I remember my worried wife asking me why I was risking my health to create these reports.  Why indeed? Why indeed.

That was the beginning of the end for a big part of my personal freedom.

Some may be critical or philosophical about my decision at the time. After all, don’t we all have a choice about how we live our lives and whether we tether or un-tether from the grid?

Of course we do. However, let’s be realistic. If you have any type of career that involves customers and the exchange of money I contend there is also an expectation of constant connection today. In fact, the ability to manage that constant connection is probably a crucial life skill for the business world.

The digital era ushered in breathtaking productivity gains that were supposed to make life easier. But the inescapable fact is, most business professionals became tethered to little machines like digital life support systems that robbed a lot of our freedom.

Even when we wean ourselves away for a few days of digital de-tox, if you’re like me, your head is still thinking about all the emails and social messages facing you upon your return … which starts the cycle all over again.

How have you changed?

It’s interesting to consider that almost nobody in our current generation will ever know what it’s like to be truly untethered from the digital hive.

I was recently on a trip to Croatia and took a sight-seeing cruise to a historic Roman village along the coast. It was a brilliant, sunny day and the coastal scenery was spectacular. I noticed a young woman who had her phone wired to her a wireless hotspot sitting in her lap. Even in the middle of the Adriatic Sea she was furiously flipping through Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. She never looked up once, literally tethered to another world.

Some commenters may point out the tremendous freedom the digital world CREATES. Of course it does. But I wonder … how would I be a different person if my career spanned the 1970s and 80s instead of where I am today?

How is this young woman floating in Croatia, but surfing another world, better or worse for the tether?

How has constant digital immersion permanently altered me and you as an employee, a person, a spouse, a parent? Interesting thought exercise …

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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