Monday, September 29, 2014

We Need an Oasis

The Little House on the Prairie books and television series capture everyday life in the 1800s on the American frontier.  Laura Ingalls Wilder recorded a lot of the mundane aspects of life--how food was prepared, how clothes were made, how people travelled, how children played.  Few people thought to record such ordinary aspects of life, because they were so obvious.  Everyone knew what toys kids played with.  Why bother to write it down?

We actually have a snapshot of history, thanks to her careful records.  Otherwise forgotten details were preserved.  And it also made for a great TV show.

Today, change happens much faster; we barely remember life without constant access to communication.  Only 20 years ago my family did not even have a cordless phone.  We did have a computer, but no connection to the "information superhighway," this new network that Vice President Gore kept touting.  News reports claimed that some day everyone's home computers could be connected.  Yeah, right.

Back then, traveling meant being out of communication.  Only through letters, phone calls and visits could anyone communicate.  Ever.  People had one phone number for home, one phone number for work.

Now I look back and wonder how I lived without Google accessible every second.  I wonder how I could be so out of touch--no texting, Facebook, Twitter, cell calls.  But somehow I did it.

Even my millennial kids, now 18 and 20, listen with a sense of vicarious nostalgia when I describe the world at the time of their births.  So much has changed in their lifetimes.  People in my generation--I'm 52--seem to have forgotten what life used to be like.  Do we need another Laura Ingalls Wilder to recall life in the late 20th century?

We are so connected now, I wonder if it may be driving us crazy.  Yes, it's annoying at times, but it may really be changing our mental wiring.  Probably not for the better.  Do we ever really unplug?  A nice, long vacation comes with the promise of an overflowing email in-box upon return.  We can prevent that by checking our email throughout vacation; i.e. we can not be on vacation while on vacation.  Is it really worth it?

I heard recently about a company which deactivates its employees' email accounts while they are on vacation.  All the incoming emails just bounce right back to the sender.  After vacation, the employees come back to a clean work slate.  That almost sounds too good to be true.

We need time to think.  We need time to be inaccessible.  We need uninterrupted chunks of time so that we can step back and see what really matters in life.  Twenty years ago we could achieve this solitude with a day trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Now we never experience it, unless our phone battery dies.  Then we rush back to connect at the earliest conceivable moment.  Somehow that seems pitiful to me.

We can be so connected to the moment that we are disconnected from real life.  Somehow we, society, must create significant oases of quiet and stillness, without having a growing pile of stuff waiting to bury us.

The need is real.  We need to capture this before we forget what it was like.