A tweet from a kill: Should we stay connected when we’re away from it all?

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One morning last December, I tweeted from a lion kill. While the sounds of cracking bone and the reek of dead giraffe rose up through the swampy Lowveld air, I was hunched over my iPhone, tweeting about what I was watching. In my defense, I was so excited that I had to share the experience — and the most obvious place to do that was on Twitter. Some of my followers were appalled (to tweet from the bush was to violate a sacred law) but many others were fascinated. At the time, reporting my experience to a collection of names on a timeline felt as if it added to the experience rather than detracting from it.

It’s a dilemma that many of us face whenever we escape from our daily routines to head off to the beach, the mountains, or the bush. Should taking a holiday mean getting away from it all — including Twitter and Facebook? Or is being connected to our social media networks just a natural extension of who we are, wherever we are?

Judging by what I’ve been seeing on my timeline, people on their Christmas holidays are continuing to tweet and update as usual. This week so far, somebody had some good sightings near the Kruger Park, another just crossed the Orange River on the way to Plett; several tweeted photos of a blockade at the Sodwana Bay National Park. I asked how people felt about accessing social media while on holiday, and got a range of responses. “My friends are always my friends, no matter what I am doing”, declared one woman. Another expressed the opposite view: “True rest only settles when you turn off the noise.”

Getting away from it all, I think, depends to a large extent on what you’re getting away from. Some of us could no more imagine being disconnected from our friends on BBM or MXit than having a limb removed without anaesthetic. For others, the challenge is to wean ourselves off the constant stream of work emails, those siren songs that call us back to the office. Dalton Conley, dean of social sciences at New York University, has coined the term “weisure” to describe the blurring of work and leisure. When there is no clear line between work and personal time, everything becomes work, and the time you put aside to wind down simply becomes an extension of the life you were trying to get away from in the first place. This has important ramifications for your own health and your work performance; there’s a growing body of research showing that getting away from it all is good for your mental health.

Social media is not work, or shouldn’t be. On holiday, it’s about connecting with people you actually like, not the people you acknowledge with tight smiles in the passageway between the cubicles. But spending time on social media when we’re taking a break brings with it the same problems that face us when we’re muddling through our daily lives: the constant need to perform for the benefit of the imagined audience, monitoring what everyone else is doing, the relentless and inevitable comparisons. Professor Sherry Turkle of MIT talks about how exhausting it can be to always be online. Adolescents develop a kind of performance anxiety because there is no escape: “They almost don’t have permission in their life to shut it down, to get off those Facebook accounts, to get off those internet accounts.”

In my experience, this is true of adults too. And this is the problem I know lies at the heart of my love of tweeting from lion kills, which (let’s be honest) is also a form of boasting. Being present on social media means being less present in the immediate reality in which you find yourself. You experience a duality of the self; you’re Schroedinger’s holidaymaker, here-but-not-here, marveling at a glorious sunset over the Atlantic and telling everyone about it at the same time. It is not possible to tweet about something and fully experience it.

The truth is that it is only by disconnecting from the constant need for new emails, new tweets and new status updates that we learn to be fully present. My co-driver on a trip back from Cape Town earlier this year threatened to throw my phone out the window if I tweeted or checked email while I was in the car with him. I carped about it at first, but after a while I settled into the routine — and something remarkable happened. On that bumpy, potholed road past Phillipolis, in a car headed for the wide horizon, I felt something approaching complete contentment.

“Nature decides for us,” reflected another of my friends, who lives in Sweden and summers at a remote cottage. If you can’t get a signal, then connecting isn’t an option, and there is something wonderfully liberating about that. Now, though, it is possible to chat online while sipping red wine around the hardekool embers in the boma. The rest of the world reaches ever deeper into the wilderness, and there’s something just a little sad about that.

I keep saying this and not doing it (because I am very bad at taking my own advice). But put the phone away. Resist the urge to tweet. And, for once, just be.

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  • http://twitter.com/MsNaomiD Naomi Dalton

    I agree that it’s important to learn to switch off from our social networks; but viewed from another perspective, there’s something so comforting about feeling that your friends are with you all the time (in a good way) and being able to share something beautiful you’re experiencing with them, even if they’re thousands of miles away. I remember when I was travelling alone through Argentina in 2003, before social networks had really taken off, and seeing some of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen, wishing that I had someone there to share the experience with, to be able to say “Look! Isn’t that just beautiful! Look at the light, how it splashes across the Andes..”. I couldn’t do that back then (or at least not until I’d had the photos printed once I was back to civilisation!), but now, signal permitting, I would be able to marvel at something and share it immediately with my loved ones, and almost feel as if they were there with me. I think that’s something really special about social networking, as long as you’re sharing these experiences with the people who really matter to you.

  • David

    The author wonders why Apple chose a lower-res screen for the iPad mini but does not consider a single reasonable possibility.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewbuckland matt

    @David. The reasons for the iPad mini are pretty obvious: 1) they needed to keep the device thin and light with max battery life, which Retina chews up; 2) the smaller screen meant the non-retina display looks fractionally less appalling than it does on an iPad 2 or less; 3) Possibly, and we don’t know this, the mini was manufactured further back than we think it was, meaning Apple had already invested in the old displays… it’s unlikely, but a possibility

    …so these are the reasons. But the reason I didn’t explore them in the article is that they are irrelevant. They are excuses. We expect better of Apple, to be on the cutting edge. That is why it has a stock price and a reputation like it does. Of course we could lower our expectations and judge Apple just like any other company… then an iPad Mini with an inferior display will be ok… but that would be silly, wouldn’t it?

  • http://twitter.com/andrewsmit Andrew Smit

    The iPhone went retina in it’s 4th generation, the iPad in it’s 3rd, you want the Mini to go retina in it’s 1st? Apple has a high stock price and large profits for a reason, they’re not stupid.

    When you use lines like “I cannot help but think that if Jobs was still in charge – he would have done something” you discredit yourself and this review. No one knows what Steve Jobs would have done, let alone you, it’s pointless making that statement.

    Let’s not forget the mistakes that Apple made under Jobs: MobileMe, Scratched iPod Nano, iPod Hifi, Puck Mouse, the Cube, iTunes ROCKR (Motorola phone with iTunes).

  • http://twitter.com/matthewbuckland matt

    Thanks for your comment — I’m not sure there is a rule that says Apple needs to follow a path like it did with the iPad and iPhone, where screens are first low res, and then retina later. What I am saying is that Retina is now the bar, so I think it’s backwards to launch a device that is obviously below the bar and looks inferior. Further, I am saying that against Apple’s own high standards, this is a failure. Apple’s high stock price, as you quite correctly pointed out, is based on this quest for high quality and standards — and that is what I am judging the company on in this review.

    With regards to the Jobs statement. I probably didn’t qualify it as well as I should have: Job’s was a detail and control freak… I just can’t seeing this pass by him. And yes we don’t really know — and its clearly a theory. A theory is based on empirical evidence and an argument. It’s ok to theorise and it is not pointless even though we “don’t know what Jobs would have done”. That is in fact what strategy is all about — predicting outcomes. I think my argument is plausible, and I await your plausible counter-argument!

  • Preyen

    I know you expect a Retina display, but right now it makes more sense for Apple to test the waters with the iPad mini that can come into an attractive price point, than to bring in a Retina version and have it be thicker and less power efficient than it needs to be.

    The form factor of the iPad mini is the biggest selling point, and it’s where they have really innovated.

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen the inside of the iPad 3, but it’s mostly battery. They share the same CPU, but different GPUs. So the iPad mini it just as fast as the iPad 3, but doesn’t need such a powerful GPU because of the lower resolution it runs, and that lower resolution also needs a much smaller battery.

    I expect that the next generation iPad Mini will have Apple’s A6 processor in it – more power and it should bring it up to par. Also costs for this SOC should come down because production would’ve ramped up for the iPhone 5. I think it will be the same resolution as this generation, and the 3rd Generation a Retina Display.

    Also, use your iPad Mini. I’m not sure how long you’ve had yours, but Apple products have excelled because of the superior user experience they provide, and the iPad Mini is no exception.

    I’ve had mine for almost a month and a barely touch my 3rd generation iPad!

  • http://twitter.com/matthewbuckland matt

    …I think Apple of excelled at getting you to part with your hard earned cash and buy products that quickly become obsolete. As much as I like the iPad mini, gonna wait for the superior product to come out… not this “experiment”

  • http://twitter.com/andrewsmit Andrew Smit

    Challenge accepted. :) I do get a little annoyed when I see “Steve Jobs would never” but thanks for the clarification, makes a little more sense. Of course it’s ok to theorise, but we need to consider the facts first.

    That said, you’re right, there is no rule, but Apple watchers know that Apple follows rules that tend to repeat itself, and is key to their success. The iPad 2 (non-retina) launched 8 months after the iPhone 4 (retina).

    Why the iPad Mini with non-retina makes sense:

    - Cheap 7″ Tablets were started selling well, possibly eating into the iPad’s marketshare, Apple needed a “horse in this race” this is beyond doubt.

    - Apple’s margins are legendary, they’ve managed to remain price competitive in the tablet market and “ultra book” whilst maintaining these margins, but these margins are decreasing, Apple can’t afford to take a hit of their margins, and it’s not in their DNA to sell products for a loss or small profit.

    - Knowing that, Apple has to release a smaller tablet in 2012, and they need to sell it for a profit – enter the iPad Mini. To include a retina meant that it would increase the price making it a hard sell against those 7″ tablets from Google and Amazon and it would significantly heavier.

    So Apple needed something in 2012, it needed to be better than the competition in areas that mattered (weight) and it had to be significantly cheaper than existing iPads. Those 4 factors are why the 2012 iPad Mini doesn’t have a retina screen.

    My prediction is that we will see an upgrade of the internals of the iPad Mini next year, but no retina screen (unless Apple make some breakthrough in SoC and battery design) and when we do see the retina iPad Mini come out, the existing Mini drops in price and continues to sell well.

    I think Steve Jobs would have been proud of the iPad Mini. Mine arrives next week. :)

  • Preyen

    That’s also fine.

    What I’m saying is that, in its current state the iPad mini is not an experimental product for the end user. It’s a really polished device! There will always be the next generation that makes the previous generation obsolete.

    But at $329 the iPad mini pays for itself really quickly, so I know I won’t feel burnt when version 2 comes out.

    You’ve got to make technology work for you – my devices are all there to make me more productive. If they don’t, then I wasted money, but if they do then it was money well spent.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewsmit Andrew Smit

    The 2nd hand market for Apple products is great as well…

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