The 'new mobility' vs. real connectivity

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Revolution is an idea that can excite the imagination and spur hopes of progress. It is a word that promises freedom but sometimes produces confusion as well.

Consider the latest revolution, the one technology buffs are dubbing the mobility revolution. Thanks to wireless telecommunication, the Internet is going mobile. Users of wireless devices will be able to check e-mail and surf the Web anytime, anywhere.

"Untethered" is the verb of choice as entrepreneurs tout the very real advantages of "wireless connectivity." Look, Ma, no cords and plugs.

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At the same time, this technology-based mobility revolution serves as a metaphor for broader social changes under way. Place and connectivity are becoming increasingly irrelevant in many

spheres. In a virtual world, employees can work and live anywhere, and merchants can sell anywhere. Libraries exist without walls, businesses without borders, workers without offices or co-workers.

Yet whatever the advantages of being untethered, not all aspects of the broader mobility revolution signal progress. A seatmate on a recent flight explained a downside of this mobility mentality.

For 20 years he has worked for a company that sells medical equipment. He likes the firm and finds satisfaction in his job. But once a year or so, just to stay aware of the opportunities in his field, he applies for a position elsewhere.

Increasingly, the man says, he finds a troubling attitude on the part of interviewers. Rather than seeing his 20 years of stability as a plus, they regard it as a liability.

"Why have you stayed with one company?" they ask in an accusatory, what's-wrong-with-you? tone.

He tells them he's held five positions in the company, demonstrating his versatility and responsibility. No matter. The interviewers remain skeptical. Their new equation appears to be: Stability equals a rut. Mobility equals progress. "Untethered" applies to more than wireless connections.

What a contrast to earlier generations of workers who sometimes spent their entire careers - four decades or more - with one employer. The perceived virtues of stability are fast disappearing.

Yet the new mobility in all its non-technological forms - the transience that celebrates hopping from job to job or marriage to marriage - can foster restlessness and dissatisfaction, creating a hunger for real connectivity and roots.

A friend who lives on the West Coast recently made a weekend visit to the Midwestern city where she grew up. It had been many years since her last trip, and she was eager to visit old landmarks. With her suitcase barely unpacked, she hopped in a rental car and began what she affectionately calls her "roots tour."

She drove past the house where she had grown up. She circled around the schools she attended and the church where she and her parents had worshiped. She even drove 50 miles north to a large lake that had been a popular gathering spot.

She and her husband enjoy a sophisticated, affluent life. But her cas-ual tour, her sentimental journey, served as a reminder of her more modest beginnings, and of the roots and rootedness - the family and community connections - that helped to shape her.

One of the truisms of parenthood involves the need to give children both roots and wings. In an age when mobility in all its forms is the mantra of the moment, wings seem an easier gift to offer. Yet roots and a sense of being tethered and grounded still have their place.

Call it old-fashioned connectivity. What a revolutionary idea.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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