The Physician and Sportsmedicine
Menubar About Us Advertiser Services CME Resource Center Personal Health Journal Home


Feeling Connected? Or Just Plain Wired?


Let's have a show of hands. Who feels tied down—rather than liberated—by all the new electronic gadgets? Yay? Nay? Can't even raise a hand because you're going through your voice mail messages on your cell phone as you navigate rush-hour traffic while slurping a latté?

As physicians, we love to stay connected and informed, but it can get ridiculous. For all the advantages that come with connective technology like pagers, voice mail, cell phones, fax machines, wireless modems, and PDAs (Potentially Distracting Appendages?), they can easily become the new ball and chain. Might as well add a house-arrest ankle bracelet for all the freedom they bring.

Of course, for physicians, these devices can prove invaluable additions to our practice. I don't have to tell you how helpful a cell phone can be on the sidelines, or how handy it is to check drug interactions on a PDA.

My problem is that I sometimes find it difficult to detach myself from these electronic umbilica, until it can be hard to tell where work ends and family life begins (one of them involves more small appliances and close relatives, but I forget which). Do you ever ask yourself how important it is to stay instantly available every moment of every day? Do I truly need my cell phone and e-mail on vacation? Has anyone else used a wireless modem in an airport to surf the Web for a 12-step program for wireless addicts? (Turns out the site wasn't all that helpful: Step #2 said to turn to a higher power—but it didn't even list how many megabytes.)

Why is this form of wireless bondage even an issue? Maybe we've let ourselves be influenced by a false sense of urgency that plays perfectly into the hands of connected technology. Perfectionists, people pleasers, and others with repressed hurts, shame, and guilt may need the constant affirmation of meeting expectations—and there is no better way to foster that illusion than by staying connected. But what if these expectations are delivered 24/7/52/80.4? (That last number is my estimated lifespan, which I just got updated via e-mail from my favorite statistical Web site.) Requests are now made on our time that simply wouldn't have been made just a few years ago.

You might not know it by my electronic ensemble, but I'm trying to fight this trend. These days I don't answer e-mail on the road or on weekends, and I turn my cell phone off when I get home. I also cycle busy and quieter periods throughout the year so that I truly can become "Gord unplugged" for up to days at a time.

What's your solution to the e-ties that bind? Honestly, I'd like to know, so write me at our editorial offices (notice I didn't say page or e-mail me). I'm sure many of you have better solutions than mine for coping with the demands of staying constantly connected, and I would be happy to steal them to improve my life.

One caveat, though: Don't tell me that multitasking is the answer, because I know it isn't. I've tried answering e-mails while using my headset phone. One time I gasped, "Oh, that's too bad!" at a disappointing e-mail, only to have the unsuspecting caller ask, "What's so bad?" This, of course, led to some quick multiexplaining and multibackpedaling.

But now I've got to go answer my voice mail messages; one might be from my e-support group. In the meantime, let me know how you enjoy life's journey—while still getting your work done. Let's stay connected.

Gordon O. Matheson, MD, PhD