Man Vs. Machine

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

Strictly speaking, I don’t think I have “technophobia,” since that involves a fear of complex technology--especially computers--and I don’t fear the machine. But what I do fear is that human beings are fast becoming--or maybe we’ve already become--slaves to the machine instead of masters.

Now, before you stop reading and turn the page, saying, “What the heck does this have to do with recreation?”, pause a moment and think of the last time you went on vacation and really, I mean really, left work behind? As professional “recreators,” are we setting the example when we go on vacation and really use the time to unwind, or merely extend the wireless umbilical cord of technology beyond the normal leash length? Has the term “The Man,” denoting the figurative person who controls the world, been replaced with, “The Machine”?

Consuming Common Sense

When you left for the last vacation, did you pack a laptop? Did you bring a cell phone and charger? Did you make sure a Blackberry or Iphone was in the bag? How about your kids? Were they wired to all their gaming or viewing equipment, and were the batteries fresh? Did you bring a Wii so you could play pseudo-tennis in an air-conditioned hotel suite while the tennis courts outside baked in the afternoon sun?

My wife and I were talking about this the other day, and she gave a good example of the reliance on technology overtaking common sense and God-given brain power. She received a call from our oldest son in Oklahoma. He was at a Wal-Mart, and Mom was in Georgia. He called because he was looking for something and couldn’t find it, so he called her to see if she knew where it was in the store.

She said she was silent for several moments, trying to comprehend that she was really getting this call. Then she said slowly and distinctly, “Did you ever think to ask someone in the store before you called your mother across the country to ask?”

It was easier for him to slip that cell phone off his belt and dial home than it was to find a human store attendant and ask. Shame on him, but it illustrates how technology has turned us into instant-gratification freaks.

Pressure To Be Hard-Wired

I do accept that when on the job, time is money, information is power, and moving at the speed of light is important to stay competitive. But is that supposed to extend to vacation too?

This phenomenon dawned on me a few years ago when I was preparing to leave for an unprecedented two-week vacation. I was somewhat apprehensive. Leaving for a couple of days generally netted about 200 e-mails to catch up on and several voice mails, not to mention all those sticky notes.

I thought when I turned on the “office assistant,” it would block e-mails, but I discovered that they still came into my inbox and only informed the sender I wasn’t there. But that takes away my free will. If I was home and someone with whom I didn’t want to talk to knocked on my door, I just wouldn’t answer the door. Or if the caller ID indicated someone I didn’t want to talk with, I wouldn’t answer.

So a day or so before I left, I called the IT guy and told him I didn’t want to come back after two weeks and spend several days catching up on e-mails. I wanted to cut the cord, stop the e-mails, shut the door, and not open it. He said I couldn’t do that. I asked why. He said the “system” didn’t allow it.

So there I was, a 21st-century man, being told that this 21st-century machine was in control of me. It was like waking up in a Terminator movie, but Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t anywhere around to save me.

My wife and I are preparing to go on vacation in a couple weeks, so she suggested that I bring my laptop to check e-mails every day so when I return I won’t have as many.

However, those should not be my only options--either to take the stress of work with me or to have it hanging over my head while I’m trying to relax, knowing it is amassing more every day I am away, and that I will pay double for every minute of relaxation I squeeze in.

Cut The Cord

My third option is to cut the cord! I should be able to shut down the computer--totally. Incoming e-mails would not come into my inbox but would bounce back to senders with a polite message: “Randy the Recreator is on vacation until whenever. If your concern is vital or personal, call his office at (770) 631-2542, and his staff can assist you. If not, wait until he comes back.” I bet that at least half of the time people will solve their own problems, or they will cease to be an “emergency.”

I should be able to switch the cell phone to off, and have it only for an emergency--one that I consider an emergency. If I want to bring my laptop to begin writing my memoirs or the great American novel or send my workmates a frivolous e-mail saying how relaxing my vacation is, that should be my choice--not that of “The Machine”!

Recreators, unite! We must take back control from the machines! We are the creators! We, the professional leisure-services men and women, must lead humanity’s charge to regain our human right to recreate!

Geez, I think I really do need a couple weeks off; does anybody know Arnold’s e-mail address?

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail