by Thomas Wailgum

What’s Wrong with Me?

May 15, 20065 mins

I guess I thought I wasn’t a technology addict. But now, after less than 48 hours this weekend, I know I finally am.

My wife, our kids and dog left our house on late Friday night, to go to my in-laws for the weekend, and in a rush to get out the door, I left my laptop behind. No big deal, I thought, after I realized my error on the drive up. Friday night was fine. But Saturday turned out to be bad. All day I felt like an alcoholic yearning for a drink.

I soon realized the enormity of my oversight after we finished lunch. I couldn’t check e-mails from work, or do research or writing on my next story. I couldn’t get on the Web to find out more information on some of the important things we were discussing with my in-laws. I couldn’t go see what was transpiring on my most favorite and reliable business and technology sites. That was all stuff I could do at my home (where I work for CIO magazine) very easily on Saturdays.

I had to (gulp) read the newspaper to get my fix. That’s just one newspaper, mind you, and not the usual cadre of media sites that I’m able to scan every day. I kept feeling the strong need for more personalized information access, and even though I was aware of the strange and silly pull of my black laptop, I couldn’t suppress it. I was alone on an island. Trapped.

After my sons woke up from their nap on this rainy Saturday, we went to the brand-new library in the neighboring town. As the boys were running around, pulling books of the shelves, I kept noticing all of the spanking-new PCs, with their flashy and tantalizing Internet access capabilities — “Log In Here!” Maybe I could go get a temporary user name and password from the librarian? The pull from the bank of PCs was almost comical, I thought to myself, like the tractor beam in Star Wars — that invisible force that draws objects from one place to another. It was just sucking me right in.

What was wrong with me? I had never really felt this before.

I’ll spare you the rest of the weekend’s details, but sufficed to say that I realized that I am powerless when it comes to controlling my desires to log in to the networked universe. I want that capability any time, wherever I am, no matter what I’m doing.

And I know that I am not alone. Whether it’s a laptop, or BlackBerry, or mobile phone, or whatever, the more ways in which IT departments enable knowledge workers (and IT workers themselves) to connect back to work and the Internet, the more ways in which we all are sacrificing a little bit of our lives to the almighty digital screen. I’ve had dozens of interviews with CIOs and IT staffers who were talking to me on their smart phones from their vacation spots or on family get-aways. On Sunday I recalled a conversation I had had with John Killeen, director of global network systems at UPS, last year for my mobile madness story. He had told me that “I live and die with my Treo.” He went on to talk about how it was always with him — on weekends, on vacations, and that it has become a part of him. “It’s important to me,” he said. “I don’t want to be out of touch. I can’t afford to be out of touch.”

But it’s not necessarily just the device’s lure. The laptop, Treo or BlackBerry itself isn’t the crack (i.e., the drug); it’s the high you receive when you are able to connect, search for information and find answers, communicate with others, and validate your thinking, then change your direction or plan, help a coworker out, or do your job more efficiently. So the crack is actually that connection that we feel. That’s the high I was searching for.

Of course, when we got back Sunday, I was able to reconnect and satisfy the urge. It was a strange feeling: the giddy and excited anticipation I felt as I was powering up my laptop. I’m not sure I had ever realized the addiction before, but now I do. The problem for me and everyone else out there toting their laptops and smart phones and other devices around is: What do we do to curb the addiction? As of this morning, I’m not sure.

What are your thoughts? Are you addicted as well and worried about it, or is this just a fact of life? How did you manage your information needs this weekend?