They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. That may be true as it pertains to friends and family, but it was not my experience this summer when I abandoned the Internet and digital technologies for a week. In early August we headed south and spent a week holed up in a cabin in a Virginia state park (Lake Anna, if you need to know). As we did two summers ago, we decided to declare this a digital-free vacation, leaving all computers and iPads and iPods and other gear out of the equation. The only electronic gear we allowed was Kindles, since that is the primary means through which Aileen and the kids read books, and a GPS, since I’ve forgotten how to read a map. I can’t say that I missed much of what we left behind.
Now let’s be clear—there are certain ways in which I’ve learned to put boundaries on my use of electronic and Internet-connected devices. If I learned anything from writing The Next Story it’s that our technologies are always threatening to form us in their image; if we do not take them captive, they will take us captive. With varying degrees of success, I’ve found ways of taking my devices and technologies under my control. Still, I often grow lazy and complacent and in such times I find myself checking email a hundred times a day or haphazardly googling any little question that may come to mind. In such times I use my devices without reflection or restriction and I use them at the expense of other things that ought to maintain a higher priority.
What surprised me in my time away this summer was how easy it was to give up all online access for eight or nine days. Not only was it easy, it was also pleasurable. I enjoyed being offline and enjoyed not feeling the need to keep tabs on the ebb and flow of online ranting and raving. I realized anew that for a vacation to be an experience in which I vacate not only a geographic location but also whatever makes life fast-paced and stressful, I will need to vacate the Internet.
Getting off the Internet slowed the pace of life which, in turn, slowed down my mind. As soon as we left the house, which is to say, as soon as we left the Internet behind, the pace of life slowed in a noticeable way. We were no longer living from email-to-email or Facebook update-to-Facebook update. Really, there was nothing to keep up with at all, except the car ahead of us on the highway. My mind immediately slowed down, engaging with one thing instead of half thinking about it before moving on to whatever came next. In quiet moments I had no choice but to be quiet and to think where I usually dive into my pocket and pull out my phone to do something, anything.