Ever find yourself off the grid for a couple weeks, away from all forms of normal communication? Not the kind where you go hiking with expectations of returning later in the day or week. Even then, you probably had a cell phone with you.
I grew up in a time of rotary telephones that only needed five numbers to dial. Making calls in a remote hamlet of New Hampshire required operator assistance. It was the age of letters … you know, that form of communication that required penmanship, paper, and pen. Mail didn’t zip electronically through servers, real humans with the Postal Service walked neighborhoods to deliver it. GPS back then was called a compass. Get caught without access to a phone or two-way radio, and you could get really lost … signal fire or message-in-a-bottle lost.
Let’s face it, many of us go ape-shit when cell signal is lost, bang keyboards when the internet goes down. Adolescents enter that special cranky state when cable or satellite goes blank with, “no signal available,” and how does anyone make it through the day without texting?
It isn’t so much what would happen if it all went down, like the popular dystopian TV show, Revolution. It’s how you’d handle it. How would you feel?
I recently spent two weeks in Nicaragua with some family members at a newly built beach house on the Pacific coast, far from the capital city of Managua. Local cell service existed if you could speak Spanish. Internet is spotty but available … in-between frequent brownouts. My cheap cell phone didn’t have international access and I chose not to rent a local cell phone (because I’m cheap and who would I call in Nicaragua). At the only bar nearby with internet access, my laptop had issues speaking the same digital lingo (it might have been the dozen rum drinks I had trying to make it work). Nursing a first class hangover next day, I decided the purpose of my visit was to regale in the splendor of third world sandy beaches and pacific sunsets.
It didn’t take long for withdrawal symptoms to set in. Fingers twitched involuntarily, as if searching for something to type. Fitful nights, separated from emergency calls in case something happened to my daughter or if my house burned down. What about all the unanswered email? Will social media followers drop me? Did Andrea escape from the Governor in Walking Dead?
All very silly of course, and after a week, the need to feed my media addiction faded. Archived memories of a time when RF signals didn’t typhoon through our body organs like electron poltergeists, had me sigh with longing. Absent the perpetual distraction of media input, my senses had room to feel the silence of where we were (except when howler monkeys went into heat … several times a week). Story plots found pen and paper, like the old days. Still, I knew it was temporary, and I’d be back in the grid soon. It had me wondering. What if going off the grid became permanent.
Skip the fantasy of people joyfully embracing the old days. Initial chaos is my bet, at least it’s the way we write it with dystopian story lines. Complete loss of communication fifty years ago would have been limited to radio, phone, and three channels of television, and even then, a fearful thing. Today, going cold turkey, with no hope of it returning? It’s enough to hole up in a basement or attic, wondering if grandpa’s ham radio still works, so we can find out if the world is ending.
What do you think? Blessing or a curse?
Walt M said:
You forgot about the typewriter. That’s at least 19th century technology.
Good catch, Walt. May have mentally blocked it because of how bad I typed in the days of Underwoods and Selectrics. Went through so much fxxk-up fluid and erasable bond paper, I went back to pen and paper until the age of word processors allowed me to type and correct in seconds. I genuflect to the authors of yesteryear who scribed thousand-page tomes on manual typewriters.
Veronica Sicoe said:
I understand your points completely, DT.
Though I’m younger than you, I grew up in communist Romania, without television, internet, plastic toys or music bands. I was 8 the first time I saw a movie, and it was about cowboys and Indians, in black and white. I touched a computer for the first time at the age of 14, and owned my first music CD with 16. Even today, working in IT and spending regular time on social media, writing at my computer every day and owning an iPhone, I frequently shut it all off, especially in summer, and go camping in the middle of nowhere for as long as the food lasts. Every Sunday is my no-internet at all day, and whenever I’m feeling low, the electronics are the first to get turned off. And I never suffer from any king of technology withdrawal.
I love technology and science, and I wish we’d all just conquer the stars and our genes already, but I’m also very aware of the danger of becoming addicted to the constant buzz of electronics around us, of becoming dependent on their existence to feel normal.
I wonder if at times, our new generation is unused to the “sound of silence”, to coin an old song. From the day they learned to respond to stimuli, something artificial vied for their attention, TV, video, DVDs. It boggles me the speed in which youngsters text today. How can one yearn for something if they’ve never been brought up in it? You are privileged to have known two, very different worlds. It gives you a perspective of the world few are privileged to know. I’ll bet you have some excellent stories to tell. A thoughtful build on Going Off the Grid, Veronica, thank you for sharing.
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Tom Krippene said:
Both. Modern technology means never being away. Always knowing where your kids are come “10:00 at night” Always in touch with the office so you don’t miss important events. We are able to communicate with more people in one day than we did in one week in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. It also means we never truly get away from it all. It means we don’t talk as much as we used to since are always texting or typing to someone. The art of conversation is lost on the next generation who will text a person 10 feet away rather than carry on a discussion. Funny note to this is my wife is trying to talk with me while I am typing a note to you.
Love it, Tom … “typing while wife is trying to talk to me.” A whole new way to avoid confrontation. Texting has become the new junk mail, abbreviated conversation in special characters like console buttons in a Star Trek movie. I go blind watching my youngest text with flying fingers. If I did that, it would be indecipherable. We lose our storytelling voice whenever we engage in texting.
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