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Hard to escape in a world of Facebook, iPhones, Wi-Fi and Skype

In our connected world, you can’t hide unless you run.

On Tuesday, a good friend of mine got an email from the chairman of the Washington state Democratic Party informing her that county records showed her mail-in ballot for the primary election had not yet been received. Clearly, turning out the vote is no longer just a generalized effort of making phone calls or walking door-to-door. Now, each one of us is a virtual GPS point on a political grid and the decision to vote is not a private affair.

Politics is no different than any other realm of activity in our connected world. In this new world, there are a host of advantages provided by the communication tools we employ -- Wi-Fi, Twitter, Facebook, iPads, smartphones and all the rest. If there is a downside, it is that there is no escape. Or, more precisely, we forget how to escape and why we should. 

Right now, I am on a short vacation with good friends. Outside, there is a beautiful lake. Boats and jet skis are cutting through the water. The air is warm; the sun is bright. But here I am sitting inside typing away on a laptop. One of my friends is downstairs calling into a meeting at the Gates Foundation. Another friend just posted a column for the New York Times. Two decades ago when we started vacationing together, we were forced to leave our jobs behind. Our only access to the outside world was a pay phone up the hill. Work had to be completed before we left home. Now, we just pack up our computers and bring work with us.

When I was in graduate school in England back in the mid-1980s, my only contact with my parents was through an occasional letter and a very occasional and expensive telephone call. I felt very far away, which could be lonely, but also liberating. When my own daughter lived in Argentina a couple of years back, we could email, text and skype, plus I could follow her exploits on Facebook and read her blog posts. It was great for me, but I wondered if she might have missed the full benefit of being distant from home. 

For the most part, I do not mind the way easy connections have altered my life. I like the idea that I can work from almost anywhere. I like knowing I can stay in touch with my daughter or son when they are far away. But that sense of the remote, lonely and exotic that once defined travel is harder to find. And, on vacation, it is harder to vacate our everyday lives. 

If someone wants to tell us to vote, we can be tracked down. If a girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse or parent or child or editor or boss wants to find us, they assume they should be able to do that right now --immediately, instantly. It used to be easy to go off the grid because the grid had plenty of holes. Now, the grid binds us together – which is good – and tethers us – which is not always so great.

Getting lost used to be easy; now it takes a plan of escape.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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