Monday, July 29, 2013

Connection Crisis

Last night my wife and I were talking to our nineteen-year-old about the old days, i.e. the days  before she was born.  When we lived in South Georgia, we would occasionally take trips to the Gulf coast, to a Florida state park on St. George Island.  We always went in the off season, and rarely saw anyone else there.  We were poor, and it was free. 

We would soak up the winter sun, read, talk, relax, nap.  We left the world behind us.  In the late 1980s, no one had cell phones, and so we  could really unplug. 

My daughter had a few questions:  Did you tell anyone where you were going?  (Sometimes yes, sometimes no.)  What if someone needed you?  How could they reach you?

The short answer is that they couldn’t.  There was no way to reach us by phone.  The park welcome center was unmanned and locked, except for the restrooms.  We never interacted with the few parties who also came to the park.  We were unreachable, unless someone sent the sheriff to find us.  And that never happened.  Our high-tech answering machine on our home phone served as our connection with any news we might need.

I checked the machine first thing when we returned home.  The blinks of the light told me how many messages were awaiting my attention.  A non-blinking light soothed my soul, because I knew that we had not missed anything. 

Stories of retreat and inaccessibility sound like fairy tales to my children.  How did we get along?  It almost defies imagination.  In those days, people took vacations and had no contact with family, friends or work.  It was part of life:  detaching and getting away, recharging, relaxing.  How quaint.

Today unplugging feels like holding your breath under water.  You can only do it for so long or you will drown.  We reenter the state of connectedness when our flights arrive, when the movie is over, when we drive back down the mountain to the land of cellular towers.  Yet our ancestors actually lived in a normal state of disconnection.  They connected only when they went to their (physical) mailboxes, when they read their newspapers, when they turned on the one hour of local and national television news.

Only old people, old-fashioned people and hermits live like that today.

But for the hip and enlightened, our troubles and responsibilities are now portable, following us everywhere we go.  Vacation becomes only a change of scenery, a chance to check occasionally (not constantly) for new messages, a scavenger hunt for wi-fi.  We only respond to the urgent stuff.  And then we follow up to make sure our message was received.

How can anyone really take vacation today?  Or even a day off?  The world expects us to stay in touch.  We oblige.  On the typical day we follow tweets and posts and blogs.  We check the news through the day.  We respond to texts and the stray phone call.  On vacation, we just scale it back.  And feel guilty. 

We didn’t check in enough. 

Or we didn’t unplug enough. 

There is no win.

And we experience ADD, high blood pressure, stress, heart disease, poor diet, sleep deprivation, isolation, depression and general fatigue.  How’s it working for us? 

I’ll Google it and let you know.