For many of us, this is the final week of work before the Christmas holidays. We are winding down, tying up loose ends and looking forward to taking a break from our daily grind.

It’s also the time of year when many posts start to appear on social networks and blogs talking about “shutting off” and “going dark” for the holidays. People are talking about the merits of “disconnecting” from the web altogether – shutting off Twitter and Facebook, turning off their cell phones, all in an effort to get away from the horrible distraction of the Internet, to get a break from the apparent mayhem that is the online world.

Some people even act as if the Web itself is a bad thing – “Oh, I simply HAVE to shut down over the holidays, and focus on what’s REALLY important.”.

I’m having nothing of it.

Work vs. Play in the Online World

I have every intention of not working over the holidays. I will set my out of office email notification, wish a happy holiday to my colleagues, and not think about work till the new year. It’s been an insane 6 months, so I really do need the break. The downtime from the day to day busyness of running a business and teaching will do me a lot of good. I’ll be able to do the things I enjoy, like hanging out with my family and friends, doing some writing and hopefully a pile of reading too.

Taking a break over the holidays is vitally important, and we all need to do it. Absolutely. But while I may not be a slave to my email for the next couple of weeks, I will not be “disconnecting”. Not by a long shot. Why? Because for me, there’s a big difference between using the Web for work and using it for fun. And if my holidays are about relaxing and having fun, why would I deny myself this great source of a good time? I’ve separated my work life and play life online to the point now where I can happily exist in either world (or in both at once).

Family and Friends First

I believe that family and friends are the most important thing. In the past I’ve made the mistake of putting my work before my family and friends, and over time I have learned the error of my ways. This was made even more apparent this past week when an old friend of mine passed away suddenly at the age of 42. I went to the visitation on Thursday night and it was an overwhelming experience. The room was packed full of his family and friends, everyone there to honour him and remember what a great guy he was. We shared memories of the good old days and there were a lot of smiles and good thoughts. We remembered what a great friend, husband, son and Dad he was, and we shed tears for the people he’s left behind.

We do get too wrapped up in our day to day grind. We spend all of our time focused on making the next buck, on climbing up and up and up the ladder of success. The holidays hit, and we take advantage of having a few days of no email and voicemails, and instead of spending time with our family, we spend the time setting goals for the coming year. Instead of stopping, taking a look around and appreciating the people in our lives, and sharing some time with them, we spend most of our time distracted about what’s coming our way after the holidays.

We forget the people that are right in front of us. And we also forget that nowadays, they not only exist in the physical world, but they are online too.

My husband’s family is in Manitoba, and we can’t make it out there for the holidays this year. So we’ll eagerly check Facebook on Christmas morning to see the photos of our new niece’s first Christmas. We’ll look forward to a Skype video call with the family later on in the day. I’ll look forward to waking up on Christmas morning and sending a cheery “Merry Christmas” text to Jon and Nancy. I’ll be thrilled when I get my annual “Merry Christmas” greeting from Diane on Twitter. I’ll follow along on Facebook as Marc and Emily’s kids open their gifts while Greg and I and welcome my parents over for our annual Christmas breakfast. As we open our own gifts, and head out for Christmas dinner at Mom and Dad’s, I’ll check in periodically to see how everyone else’s day is going. I’ll send texts to friends wishing them a happy day and maybe I’ll indulge in an old-fashioned phone call or two as well.

I’ll spend my day firmly planted in both the online and offline world. I don’t see how it’s necessary or fair to “disconnect” my online family and friends.

Of course, I won’t be head-down in my iPhone all day long. I will be focused on the people and things around me. But it’s different now. I live offline and I live online. It’s all my real life. And the people I love are in both places – in the room in front of me and out here, on the Web. It doesn’t make sense for me to leave a whole group of my loved ones out just because they happen to be part of my online world.

It Comes Down to This

We each get to decide how we spend our time, especially our downtime. While it’s important to take a break and not be all “work work work”, it’s also important to remember that the holidays are a time to connect with the people who are important to you. Tell them how special they are, and how important they are to your life. Savour every minute of the time you get to spend with the people you love, whether it’s a day spent with your family or a 140 character exchange on Twitter with a distant friend. I’ve been reminded this week how little time we really have to do this, and how it can all disappear in an instant.

The holidays are not about “disconnecting”. If anything, they are about connecting even more.

Oh, and Mike, if you’re out there somewhere….”THOCK”. This one’s for you.

[photo credit: Mukumbura]