How to Disconnect?

I am ashamed to admit that on my honeymoon- yes, my HONEYMOON– I struggled to disconnect from the world…my job, social networks, incoming emails. There was no wifi in the (stunning) rooms and to connect I had to go to a small dark windowless office off the hotel lobby to log in to the resort’s guest computer.  I sat in that little room more than I would like to admit. I hate being disconnected.

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Would you choose email over this scene?

On my daily commute there is a period of my train ride, oh about 8 minutes or so long, where we are under the East River and have no cellular connection. And of course there’s no wifi on the Long Island Rail Road (one can dream that someday…).  Even for this short period of time I get anxious. Not about the thousands of pounds of water just a few feet over my head but because I can’t see what’s going on. For 8 minutes I can’t just sit and relax with my own thoughts to entertain me.

My name is Terra, and I am an addict. For real.

The first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do (before kissing my sweets goodnight) is something digital. Check my email. See who pinged me on Facebook. See what tweets have come through or what breaking news is happening . While this is a great trait to find in a social media manager, it’s not perhaps very nice to be married to. Or the child of.

The reality is I love what I do, I enjoy it. I like to think I am pretty good at it too, which makes it all the more fun. So now, as the time is quickly approaching for me to shift gears for a little while to focus on the little one about to burst from my loins, I am starting to feel anxious. Yes, about the regular new-mamma stuff but also about what it will be like to not HAVE to check in to my social streams, emails and network 100 times a day for 12 whole weeks. To not have to worry about this presentation or that conference call. To not be spending my free time thinking about my projects and strategies. I think it’s going to be really hard to make that shift.

When I recently suggested to my boss that I set up a weekly call with the contractor coming in to handle my tasks while on maternity leave he quickly said, “No. Enjoy this time. You only get this opportunity once to bond with your baby. Don’t schedule any meetings.” He’s right, as usual, but immediately my heart rate went into overdrive. How will I know what’s happening? This makes me physically uncomfortable. But I am slowly realizing that this is important – the ability to disconnect with the digital and reconnect with the actual is something that I have to learn to do, and learn to enjoy. If I don’t figure out how to do that now, I may miss the good stuff. The real stuff happening right in front of my eyes.

How many days in to my maternity leave will I stop unconsciously reaching for my laptop and cell phone? Any guesses?

Will I be able to check my Facebook page in heaven?

I have become just a tad bit obsessed with the thought of what happens to our social media pages after we die.

I know, morbid, right? This thought isn’t completely out of the blue. I first started thinking about it when I heard about a situation where the parents of a man who had died unexpectedly sued the wife for taking down his facebook page, which they considered community property after his death. She didn’t like having the reminder there, but his parents found some kind of solace by having access to his photos and status updates online.Facebook has actually struggled on how to best handle this as well. Previously their policy was to automatically remove the profile of the deceased one month after he or she has died, preventing the profile from being used for communal mourning. However,  Facebook amended that policy in 2009, in the wake of the VA Tech shooting, “We first realized we needed a protocol for deceased users after the Virginia Tech shooting, when students were looking for ways to remember and honor their classmates,” says Facebook spokeswoman Elizabeth Linder. The new policy places deceased members’ profiles in a “memorialization state.” Facebook’s Privacy Policy regarding memorialization says, “If we are notified that a user is deceased, we may memorialize the user’s account. In such cases we restrict profile access to confirmed friends, and allow friends and family to write on the user’s Wall in remembrance. We may close an account if we receive a formal request from the user’s next of kin or other proper legal request to do so. Once that is completed, the user will cease showing up in Facebook’s suggestions, and information like status updates won’t show up in Facebook’s news feed, the stream of real-time user updates that is the site’s centerpiece.”

On a personal level, the Facebook pages of the few people I know who have died since the explosion of social media remain intact and a place where people frequently submit personal messages of peace and hope, especially around the holidays and their birthday. I guess it’s not much different than lighting a candle and saying a prayer, except this form of communicating with the dead is viewable to all who have access to the person’s Wall (which if they did not properly set their privacy settings before dying could be anyone and everyone).

So, that’s what happens with Facebook…what about your e-mail accounts? Would you want a loved one to have access to your email files? Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail all will send a family member a CD of your email folders as long as you provide them with the required information (death certificate, power of attorney and such). Similarly, Twitter will provide an archive of a deceased person’s tweets to credible requests. I don’t know about you, but I am taking mental inventory now of what’s in my email folders. Anything I should delete before anything unfortunate happens?

Technology tends to progress faster than we can plan for the ramifications and consequences of having such open access to people and information. Now, we are seeing companies like Legacy Locker who will store your “digital legacy” in a secure place to be passed on per your wishes in the event of your death (for a fee, naturally). Having contingency plans added to your will for the digital content you leave behind surely isn’t so uncommon these days too.

When I went to my Grandmother’s house after she passed away last year, I was so moved by the many Valentine’s Day Cards, anniversary cards, Christmas cards and birthday cards between my grandmother and grandfather exchanged between the 40s-70s. The cards were so beautiful, and the messages, even when brief, so touching.  I never knew my grandfather and felt like these cards were a little window to his character. Would my grandchildren get the same joy over seeing the first tentative e-mails sent between me and their grandfather? Or the sweet love letters in electronic form that have taken the place of traditional letter writing?