Monday, August 04, 2008


When I asked the organizer of the workshop I have been attending in a somewhat remote non-US location about internet access, he said that when he is not in his office, he never checks his e-mail or connects to the internet, so that is how he has organized this workshop.

Well, OK, I survived being disconnected for a few days, though at times I felt a bit faint and short of breath. I can see the benefits for a small workshop of staying focused and not having people checking their e-mail constantly, but I think there should have been some provision for occasional internet access, especially since phone access, although at least possible, is not easy for various reasons.

Just because the workshop organizer revels in being internetless when away from the office, does not mean he should have imposed this philosophy so completely on the rest of us. Even once/day access would have been fine.

Having internet access isn’t just about checking on things at the office. When I travel, the internet is how I stay in touch with my family and friends. While at the workshop, I could be easily contacted in an emergency, but there are non-emergency but still important reasons to connect to the rest of the world.

The day I arrived at the workshop, my husband’s beloved aunt died. I want to know how he’s doing. I want to check my daughter’s camp website and see if there are pictures of her having fun in a canoe or around a campfire. I want to check on my cat, who, just before I left, fell (or was pushed..) from a very great height in a tree. Yes, he landed on his feet, one of which then spectacularly broke. [They never mention the broken bone part of the cats-landing-on-their-feet thing, nor how much it costs to get cat femurs surgically fixed]. And so on.

I said to Professor I-never-check-email-away-from-the-office: “But don’t you then return to hundreds of e-mails that you have to sort through? Isn’t that very time-consuming and annoying?”. He admitted that this was indeed the case, but still thought it was worth it to have some internet-free days. That’s fine of course, but that’s not my preference. I’d rather stay connected to family and friends, delete the stupid e-mails and department memos day-by-day, and not return to a scary e-mail inbox.

I am still at the workshop, but I have finally managed to find a wireless signal that I can access once (maybe twice) day.


Anonymous said...

The first requirement of a conference these days is reliable wireless access. I think your dinosaur friend doesn't realize how the rest of the world lives these days.

Diane said...

I was doing field work for much of the summer in some very remote parts of the eastern U.S. and not having Internet access (or sometimes even a cell signal) was very frustrating. Since I was still in the process of getting permits to visit sites, I needed to check my email at least once a day. Plus I sometimes wanted to share pictures of things I'd seen with my family, or check in with the husband without bugging him with a phone call at work. I became very grateful for states that offer wireless at their rest stops (Iowa and Kentucky!) and any motel that doesn't offer free wireless is beneath my notice.

Anonymous said...

How frustrating! I have trouble going a full day w/o connection when it's my own decision. I can't imagine having it forced on me by someone else. Great work finding some wifi!

Greg said...

Having just returned from 12 days without email or phone, I feel your pain of playing email catchup. Great post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

First of all, this is a fantastic blog. I discovered this blog a couple of weeks ago and have spent the time catching up on your posts.

I almost feel lost if I don't have some connection to the internet. I was at a meeting last week and with my new iPhone, I felt connected if even only to just check up with my wife and kids.

In a somewhat related note, I noticed that at the Philly ACS meeting in a few weeks, internet access is included with all of the hotel accomodations. What a fantastic idea by the ACS!!! I understand the costs involved with delivering "the internets" to us but it still irks me to no end when I have to pay $14.95 a day for access at a hotel. I hope the ACS keeps this trend going with future ACS meetings.

MaleScienceProfessor (but at public liberal arts university)

Anonymous said...

Oh no! I hope your poor kitty is okay. I would have had a hard time leaving under those circumstances.

Enjoy your time "away from it all"!

Isis the Scientist said...

I was recently at a conference/retreat for 3 days where there was no internet access. It was really, really hard for me to feel disconnected from all of the day-to-day tasks I di. But, in the end, I realized that it allowed me to focus more on the science and less on the mundane administration I give too much time to.

Anonymous said...

I think it's refreshing to go without internet for a few days from time to time. Having said that, I don't think it's fine to impose this on someone else!

Anonymous said...

Two words: cell phone

Get one of the many that supports internet access. Don't forget to get an unlimited data plan to with it.

Anonymous said...

If only your workshop organizer knew how many people hate him because we have been missing your posts for a few days, and now we know he is to be blamed. I used to be such a dinosaur, arguing with students about the use of cell phones on field trips, etc. But I have evolved and I suspect your colleague organizer could too. He doesn't have to be a f&%รง* a%=°&*" forever..

usagibrian said...

Near argument last vacation with my partner that I spent 15 minutes in the morning while having my tea on my laptop going through the office emails. Saved me a day and a half coming back into the office after and made for a far more overall relaxing vacation, so it's not negotiable.

Anonymous said...

It is rather rude to impose this on people when you plan a conference.

For crying out loud, I went to a conference in Uganda where my hotel did not have electricity or hot water, but the conference venue had internet (not free, but a few cents a minute only).

That being said, I went to a conference (in the US) recently where the hotel the society used did not have complementary internet access (and it was not a cheap hotel). I was rather annoyed since I only needed it for a few minutes, but I needed to deal with important administrative stuff at my home institution.

I wonder what this person's students think of his accessability?

Anonymous said...

It is fine to take a break from the internet when one is at home (where internet access is part of the routine and taken for granted), but when one is on the road (even for just a few days), internet access becomes a necessity because it is an anchor to the familiar, and it is probably the easiest or more economical way to stay in touch with your home life. Unless, of course, one just wants to "disappear off the radar" for a while. But that is a personal choice, and should not be imposed on everyone else.

On a positive note (if there is one), an experience of "disconnectedness" might force us to think of alternative means of staying connected to home life, instead of relying so heavily on the internet.

Female Science Professor said...

Three words: I have one.

It didn't do me any good until I found a place with a signal.

Ms.PhD said...

Poor kitty!