A Web Runs Through It
In the age of computer creep, are there still technology-free zones?
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Like many of my contemporaries, I spend most of my workweek immersed in technology-in my case, studying its impact on business. And I do love my work. But my instincts have always told me that technology, for all its digital splendor, requires a strong antidote.

Luckily, I have discovered that antidote. It is called the Great Outdoors and on any given weekend I can be found hiking, camping, cross-country skiing or simply reading a book (another favorite antidote) under a tree. Of course, my excursions generally begin online. I research campgrounds or cross-country skiing destinations. I compare prices and amenities, make reservations, download maps and shop for the latest micro-fiber, moisture-wicking fleece clothing. Before I pack the car, I log on one more time to check weather and road conditions. Then I declare my life a technology-free zone until Monday morning.

Or so I thought until one Sunday last August. I was sitting blissfully beside a mountain lake 8,000 feet above stress level, high in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. My companion and I had just laid out our lunch of apples, cheese and sausage and I could practically see John Muir walking out of the wilderness to join us. We began discussing other hiking trails in the area when I commented, "I'll check the guidebook as soon as we get back to the Web site."

"What did you say?" she asked.
"When we get back to the campsite I'm going to check other hikes."
"You said Web site instead of campsite."
"I did?"
"Yes, you did."
Suddenly, without warning, the virtual world had asserted itself, superseding the sublime moment at hand. A mere slip of the tongue? Perhaps. But John Muir disappeared and took the magic with him.

We once worried about the impact of technology on our culture. With Velcro straps would kids ever learn to tie their shoes? With digital clocks would they understand the big hand and the little hand? With spell checkers would they learn the difference between to, too and two? Maybe the problem is much bigger. Will their frame of reference shift from tangible real-life experiences to shallow virtual substitutes? And will they know the difference?

There are threads that run through my life-points of reference and comfort that I return to again and again as the years go by. They are my touch points. The outdoors is one (no, I don't fly-fish) and books are another. But something has changed. I find myself incessantly grazing printed pages, billboards, posters, TV screens-any printed surface-for Internet addresses. All subjects of interest are immediately subjected to Web scrutiny for further analysis. And while I may turn up much useful information, the feeling is always that of skimming an artificial surface.

I used to play several musical instruments. It took too much time to stay in practice. I don't play them anymore. But I find time to surf the Web. Still, my life is as crowded and diverse as ever and I struggle to keep it in balance. But today-for better or for worse-a Web runs through it.

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