Home is where the e-mail is

IS Guerrilla

Jimmy Buffett once wrote a song that told the story of a man who erased himself from his own laptop and simply disappeared. It’s an appealing thought sometimes.

I’m at the beginning of that kind of experience right now. Mobile computing? Hands-free computing? Portable computing? As of this week, I’ve got ’em all beat – I’m experimenting with no-fixed-address-whatsoever computing, at least for the next few months.

That’s right: I’m homeless in the computer age.

Now, I don’t mean to trivialize the plight of those who cannot afford decent housing – homelessness is a criminal social injustice in our wealthy nation, and my comments aren’t meant to equate my situation with the plight of the homeless in any way.

That said, it’s just that the term “no fixed address” is such a perfect one, and I can’t find any better words to describe my situation.

Here it is: through a combination of work, travel and personal circumstances, I’ve found myself at home (Calgary) for only a couple of nights a month in the last few months, usually only long enough to go skiing with my daughters.

The rest of my days (and nights) are spent on various projects in various locations all over the world.

Incidentally, extended travel is one of the reasons I don’t usually stay at the Westin anymore – although the rooms are great, they all look the same with the same exacting standards, and I’ve had enough of the surreal experience of waking up in the morning and not knowing where I am…but I digress.

As it turned out, the house I’ve been renting in Calgary for the last six months was sold to someone who actually wanted to move into it and live in it (an odd concept), so I found myself sans abode recently.

With no time to look for a new place, and a whole lot of travel coming up over the next few months, what did I do?

Gave up a fixed address entirely, that’s what. Gave away a lot of my stuff, and put the rest in storage.

The implications? No permanent mailing address, no permanent landline (just my cell phone), a Hotmail address, and a work e-mail address. Closest thing to permanence is an office I see once in awhile.

It made me think that in this age of travel and 24-hour days, our connections are as often virtual, as they are physical.

Without discussing the social impact of blogs and chatrooms and Internet dating (for the record, I’ve never tried any of them), I did get an inkling of how people depend on virtual connections a few month back when my e-mail address changed, and I lost touch with a bunch of people who had formerly been regular correspondents. When my company changed it’s domain name, it also meant, of course, that all our email addresses changed too, and within two months of the change (way too short of a transition period if you ask me, but they didn’t) any message that went to, for example, [email protected] simply stopped finding me, and my new address became [email protected]

Anyone who sent a message to my old address found them disappearing into the ether, and I never knew about it.

In the process of trying to round up some people for a local fundraiser, I was calling people who I hadn’t talked to in months. Good thing I called, ’cause many of them had stopped corresponding once my old e-mail address had stopped working for them.

Yeah, I know I should have sent out one of those “Hi everybody – my e-mail address is changing….” But I didn’t.

And I can’t tell you how many people only really knew where I was through my digital address. “Why didn’t you call?” I asked. “You’re never in the country anyways,” they said. Kind of a weak excuse, I thought, but I’ll continue to wonder how many connections I’ve now lost because of that simple domain name change.

From the perspective of e-mail, I am now at the mercy of a stable domain name, and less so, a stable Hotmail account or two.

My cell phone will find me with a local Calgary call wherever I am in North America, I can pick up Hotmail anywhere I can find a Web browser, and I can tunnel into our corporate network through high speed connections at almost any hotel I stay in.

I guess you could say that I can be everywhere and nowhere at once – plugged in wherever, but living nowhere.

The larger questions: Is this where the technology is taking us, and what has it done to our sense of place, to our sense of home?

I doubt I’ll be able to stand being homeless for long, but it makes sense for right now. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the interim, you can always find me there, wherever I am.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at[email protected]

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