I knew I had a problem with my Facebook addiction when I kept thinking of last weekend’s camping trip as a series of status reports:
Wendy Worrall Redal
… swore she would not camp in a tent in the rain again, and here she is.
… can’t believe she spent the last two hours trying to get flames out of a smoking fire made with wet wood.
… thinks the finest aroma in the world is the scent of alpine firs.
… is amazed at the lush profusion of wildflowers in the meadow next to Long Lake.
Actually, by the time I went hiking to Long Lake, I had been away from digital technology altogether for 24 hours, and I wasn’t thinking in terms of my Facebook status by that point. But all those moments offered a telling realization: My daily life — my very psyche — is tethered to mobile digital technology.
Give new meaning to feeling “refreshed”
Truth be told, it was largely the fact that there was no wireless coverage and no cell phone reception at our forest service campground at 10,300 feet that kept me from the chronic pull to be online. And, as ever in such ever-rarer situations, it was refreshing.
I choose that word deliberately: I felt “re-freshed” — my senses were made fresh again — when I engaged the natural world unmediated. The extent to which we limit our opportunities to do that is, I believe, a danger to the fate of wild places on our planet. The more wired — or wireless — we become, the more removed we are from the actualities of nature, more numb to its beauty and gifts and the imperative to protect it.
It’s a cliché that kids need to get away from TV and video games to spend more time outdoors. But how many of us tech-dependent grown-ups are willing to discipline ourselves when it comes to the lure of our gadgets?
Truly encounter nature
The problem with having a cell phone in our pocket vibrating with a new text message every few minutes, or an iPod providing a constant stream of private music, or a laptop open for the latest news alert or weather report or e-mail, or in my case, updates from my 357 Facebook friends, is that we are never fully in touch with the immediate world at hand. Our attention is fragmented, our focus is interrupted, and our immersion in our surroundings is inevitably superficial.
To truly encounter nature — let alone discern the power and peace of wilderness — we must eliminate all those secondary layers of communication. We can’t hear the wind in the pines if we’re listening for ring tones. We can’t see the subtle shifts of light and cloud and shadow if we’re glancing at the glow of a screen. And we can’t begin to still our consciousness toward the contemplative state that nature induces if we are unable to slow and simplify the activity of our minds.
I went offline in the Amazon — and survived!
When our family spent two weeks in Ecuador last winter, we were without computer or phone in the Galapagos and Amazon rainforest (despite the fact that the jungle eco-lodge where we stayed had a computer with satellite Internet access, which guests could use for a fee — we didn’t). My husband and I allowed our kids to listen to their iPods on the plane, but that was it.
And guess what: None of us remotely missed our electronic leashes to the outside world. On the contrary, we felt a liberation we didn’t realize we needed. We were snorkeling with sea lions and listening to howler monkeys in the canopy. Our e-mail inboxes could wait. No one needed a constant stream of status updates from us. Our families knew how to reach us in an emergency — that was enough.
Choose to unplug
I suppose the day is coming when even forest service campgrounds will have a wi-fi blanket covering the alpine firs. Heck, climbers on Everest make sat-phone calls from the summit. That’s why we must choose to unplug. As a generation comes of age never knowing any reality other than being always connected and distracted, we must re-teach ourselves the value of a direct, analog experience of nature: its sharp chill and stifling humidity, damp dew and desert drought; its rainbow of wildflowers and rough bark of hemlock; its breeze and gale and stars and sky and river gurgle and lake ripple; its duck squawk and owl hoot and cricket call; its lack of sound, its boldness and its blankness; its brash beauty…
So the next time you leave town, leave your technology behind and meet the unadulterated world. Your Facebook friends won’t mind waiting for you.