Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

UNPLUGGED

Some Canadians are getting tired of all the digital distraction

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Spring Gillard is an avid blogger and active on social media, but don't expect to see any emails or tweets sent from her Android device, BlackBerry or iPhone since she doesn't own a smartphone -- or a cellphone, either.

The Vancouver resident works from home and is amply wired for web use. But once Gillard steps away from the computer screen, whether for exercise or running errands, she relishes the chance to be truly unplugged -- and not tethered to a mobile device.

"I am on Facebook and Twitter and I use that in my work, but I just don't want to be available 24 hours a day. And I really do feel that it's important to give people your attention," said Gillard of communications company Garden Heart Productions and writer of the blog Compost Diaries.

"I spend so much time on computers and email and everything else, and I just don't want to go that extra step -- and I don't want to become one of those people that's so tied to their device."

A recent survey by Rogers Communications of more than 1,000 smartphone or tablet users found that 65 per cent said they felt naked without their smartphone and Internet access. More than half of those polled said they check their mobile device before brushing their teeth in the morning.

But like Gillard, not everyone is flocking to snap up a mobile device.

U.S.-based Canadian technology blogger Justin Pot recently wrote an opinion piece for MakeUseOf.com outlining why he was happy to stay smartphone-free.

While expressing love for the Internet, Twitter and Reddit, he also wrote of savouring time spent offline free from digital distractions.

"It seems like smartphones are reprogramming people, making them respond to bells in a manner that would embarrass Pavlov's dog. If you love that, great, but it's not for me," he wrote.

"I mean, they're cool. Don't get me wrong," Pot said of smartphones. "I'm just not super-interested in paying quite that much for a data plan right now... It's quite a bit of cost.

"Would it be nice from time to time (to have one)? Yeah. Is it worth the cost? No," he added. "There's also the potential of being distracted by it constantly. And just add it all up and I'm just not all that interested."

In Gillard's case, part of her work involves designing and delivering tours related to sustainability. She admits there's an "inconvenience factor" to not having a cellphone at the ready to inform others if she's running late for the next stop.

"In my work, that's come up where I've said: 'I don't have a cellphone,' (and people) look at me like I'm from another planet," she said. "I do feel like the odd person out a lot, and there is a sense of: 'Oh, no, am I getting behind?"'

Often compounding the issue is the difficulty in finding public payphones which are growing few and far between, she noted.

"Sometimes I wish, 'Oh, boy, if I only had a cellphone right now I could call ahead' and so it's inconvenient. But so what?" she said with a laugh. "So it's a little inconvenient."

The 55-year-old University of British Columbia graduate student posted on her blog last year about being in the minority on campus as a non-cellphone user while observing others on their devices.

"You watch people come out of the building at the end of class and everyone has their face down looking at their phone. People aren't talking," she said. "To me, that's one of the most fabulous things about going to school: the social discourse that happens and engaging with people from all over the world and different ideas. I mean, that's what I remember from my undergrad."

Most young people are so used to being connected that for them, it's almost a normal state of being, said Anabel Quan-Haase, associate professor of information and media studies and sociology at Western University in London, Ont.

"They're constantly on their devices, and for them, not being on their devices means that they're going to miss out on something," Quan-Haase, director of the Sociodigital Lab, which does interdisciplinary research on social issues of digital technology.

"We've really now reached a level where the digital has become so ingrained in our daily lives... it's become so routinized."

Quan-Haase said those who make the choice not to have a mobile device set clearer boundaries as to when they're "hyperconnected."

But since most of the technologies are connecting technologies, one of the key issues which arises for those considering using them is the feeling of peer pressure or need to connect, she noted.

"As we make choices about what devices we should use... part of the decision is also made in terms of 'Well, first of all, what do others have?' but also, 'What allows us to connect best with that peer group, with that network?"' she said. "That's something that we saw also with Facebook and Twitter which is that the more people (that) are on it, there's a moment where ...everyone gets on it."

"I think it makes a lot of sense that peer pressure --and that sort of mocking of not having one particular device or the most up-to-date device -- would yield some pressure. But I think that it is really a choice," she added. "And people like myself for example, I've decided still I don't need it because it gives me that control over when I'm reachable."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2013 A2

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