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Balancing the Old and the New

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The week between Christmas and New Year's used to be one of my favorites. It was my end-of-year respite at work. I looked forward to quiet days in my office, with few phone calls, no visitors and a relaxed dress code. Time to clean my desk, pack up books I'd bought but never got around to reading (and never would) and throw out the stack of studies and policy papers that might have made good columns but had grown stale.

Not anymore.

The first change came a couple of decades ago, when I stopped going into an office -- other than the one a few feet from my bedroom. Now I look forward to dressing up, not dressing down. And as for carving out time to be alone, my bigger challenge is making sure I see colleagues more than a few times a year.

With the advent of the Internet, I never need to leave home to access information, research whatever topic strikes my fancy, peruse public policy, order books or even read the digital variety without getting up from my computer. I can conduct interviews or be interviewed via Skype or FaceTime, all without leaving home.

But this great freedom has also turned one hour, one day or one week into pretty much every other. No one I know shuts off his or her computer at the end of the day. We take our work with us wherever we go, answering emails and phone calls, checking the news at all hours. I take my iPhone to bed. It's often the last thing I look at before I close my eyes and the first thing I grab when I wake up.

The more connected I am, however, the less connected I feel. Sure, I can follow what friends and colleagues are doing via social media. But it's not the same as walking down the hallway to chat with a co-worker or grabbing a quick lunch together. Connecting face to face used to be effortless. Now it takes planning, coordination and lots of lead time, usually scheduled via email.


Electronic communication is convenient but impersonal. Emails are bad enough; texting is worse. Yet I find myself using both to communicate not just with associates and friends but family, too. It's quicker and more convenient to text a note from my phone than it is to place a call, which the recipient may be too busy to answer. But even a well-crafted email can't convey the same message as a phone call. And when it comes to communicating with those you love, a voice expresses a rich emotional range missing from a few hurried words flashing on a screen.

So this holiday interim, I'm going to try going back to my old routine. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to turn off my computer and iPhone altogether, but I'm going to limit their use. No looking at emails -- well, maybe once, OK, twice a day -- and no texting when a phone call would be better.

I may not have so much paper piled up on my desk as I used to -- but the end of the year seems a good time to scrap most of it and file the rest. As for books, I still prefer the ones you can hold in your hands. This year, instead of dispensing with those unread, I'll take the time I would have spent trolling online news to leaf through a chapter or two.


I also hope to schedule a few lunches and coffees with friends. And if I'm successful, I'm dressing up for the occasion. No jeans and sweater but a holiday outfit. I've got a closet full of clothes I wear only to formal meetings or on TV; why don't my friends deserve to see me looking my best?

Who knows, I may get used to this new pattern and carry it on into the new year. Come the end of 2015, my goal will be to have struck a better balance between the old ways and the new.

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