An insight from Africa: escaping from tech, or escaping thanks to tech?

APostFromAfricaMy wife and I are currently on safari in East Africa for the first time. And while I marvel at the natural wonders surrounding us each day, I am equally drawn to the many effective uses of technology that follow us into the bush. Some of these uses are pleasant reminders of tech’s ubiquity in our world (eg: seeing Masai in traditional dress using cellphones) while some of these uses are life-savers. Literally.

A few mornings ago we were eating breakfast in the Tarangire Safari Lodge when my phone buzzed. It was an alert from the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). My wife signed us up for STEP before we left the states; it’s a program run by the US State Department that alerts US Citizens who are traveling the world about potential dangers. Clearly an important message waited on my phone, so I immediately checked the headline. Dengue Fever Outbreak in Dar es Salaam.

I read through the full alert and breathed a sigh of relief. The outbreak was limited to a region we weren’t planning to visit, and even if we were we had the necessary immunizations to keep us healthy. Yet still, as my wife and I finished our breakfast I easily imagined scenarios where a similar message could have saved our skin. I felt thankful for both STEP (which the US Government runs so effectively) as well as the global tech infrastructure that makes such a program possible in the first place. But more than anything, I felt silly when I remembered my original plan to disconnect entirely from communications technology while on my vacation.

The virtues of staying plugged in

Our culture increasingly lionizes “unplugging.” Every day there’s a new viral blog post telling you to get away from the buzzing, beeping, and flashing gizmos that demand your attention. I write some of those blog posts. In general I’m a big advocate for regularly stepping away from your tech– either so you can focus deeply on a work project or so you can engage with life outside the office. So when I was planning my trip to Africa, I saw an opportunity to unplug for a big two-week stretch of time.

I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to selectively drop in on my tech in the mornings and at night. I’m glad I did. Not only because my phone and my tablet let me travel safely, but because they let me travel at all. Here I am sitting in front of my tent with the savannah spreading out in front of me and I am able to offer guidance to my clients and my business, and I’m also able to drop in with the people back home who I care about (including you, who I’m happy to share these thoughts with).

Truly a wonder.

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