SILICON LOUNGE: Never Take Your Laptop on a Speedboat and Other Tall Tales
I just had a splendid vacation. My boy-partner Todd and I spent more than a week in Miami and Key West. I lived in surfer shorts and my flowered Birkenstocks ("Betulas," these groovy ones are called). No makeup, but lots of margaritas and Red Stripes and Motown and Jimmy Buffet and Alan Jackson and saltwater. We never put the top up on the Miata, and we went through a whole bottle of Coppertone. I even started liking "Kokomo," thanks to a duo that sings in the sunset every day on the western tip of Key West.But before I sound like a what-I-did-on-spring-break braggart, allow me to fill in the blanks. Todd and I travel frequently. Technology and journalism conventions lure us to cities around the country: San Francisco, D.C., Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix. We're even headed to MacWorld in Paris in September. We go "ski-dooing" and skiing in Vermont, love Tybee Island, Ga., Newport, R.I., Cape Cod and Nantucket. We road trip to weird places like Dodge City and Liberal, Kan., four-wheel in Utah and so on. I've been to 45 states and counting. I decided several years ago that my career goal was simple: to do satisfying work from wherever I feel like doing it from.Alas, the dark side: We don't always enjoy our travels as we should, often relaxing only between computer connections, if then. From the first trip we took together three years ago to San Francisco, we tend to work too much from our hotel rooms. We haul our files and our laptops and phone cords and double jacks everywhere we go. We don't usually tell our clients we're on the road: We just hook up to a phone extension, adjust for time differences and make our deadlines. It may be tax deductible, but it can also make for dull, stressful trips.Nevertheless, it may seem heavenly to those chained under those God-awful florescent lights all day. And, I'd argue to the grave that the freedom beats daily office politics, meaningless meetings and trying to be affable to chirpy, holier-than-thou morning birds who collapse just as I hit prime time. I love working for myself.Yet technology can be a ball and chain. Our high-speed laptaps, PDAs and digital phones make it difficult to convince ourselves, and often our clients, that we need time off, too. Todd's computer-book publishers are especially guilty: One of his editors will e-mail revisions late Friday afternoon that she wants approved by the time she logs on Monday morning.That said, we're the primary culprits. "Sure, I'll get that to you Wednesday," I'll say to an editor, knowing full well that working in, say, Key West will make me miserable.This trip was different, though. We both decided to delay most of our deadlines, finally convincing ourselves after years of successful freelancing that our clients won't drop us if we ask for a little reprieve. And we did take both the PowerBook and my iBook, but -- lo and behold -- the iBook crashed hard and Todd didn't have the tools to fix it.Amazingly, I was thrilled when the iBook tanked. I had transferred over a batch of work and unanswered e-mail to fit in during our week "off." But without my little high-tech blueberry, I was suddenly an easy rider. And it was contagious: Todd had his PowerBook, but we decided to delay our return ticket and spend three extra days in Key West. We went boating, scootering, eating, drinking, shooting pool, dancing. We visited the 50-odd cats at the Hemingway house, and then shot pool at Papa's old watering hole. The PowerBook stayed in the hotel.In fact, while speed boating, one of my favorite Hemingway sayings came to mind: "I never regret what I've done, only what I didn't do" (or words to that effect). For once, I must say, I wasn't regretting what I didn't do. I figured the old boy would approve.The moral is simple: Turn off the damned computer and live. It'll still be there when the sun sets -- and when it rises. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.