Two years ago, I went off-the-grid to Central America and for awhile, folks didn’t hear from me. About the same time last year, I went to Nevada (see Going Off the Grid for a Human Touch), and got caught up in the wonder of my newborn grandson. Well, I’ve done it again and gone off-the-grid for a few weeks in Mexico. Like my adventure in Central America, local cell service existed if you could speak Spanish. Internet is spotty but available … in-between frequent brownouts. My cell phone didn’t have international access and I chose not to rent one locally (because I’m cheap and who would I call in Mexico). When I did find a working Wi-Fi signal, my laptop had issues speaking the same digital lingo. It might have been the dozen rum drinks I had trying to make it work, but I decided the purpose of my visit was to regale in the splendor of unspoiled sandy beaches and turquoise waters (I took that right off the tourist brochure).
A few days passed before withdrawal symptoms 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 Tyrion Lannister survive his harrowing boat journey with the scheming eunuch?
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 I was. 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.
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?
I grew up in a time of rotary telephones that only needed five numbers to dial (who remembers dialing “two“, and getting the party line). 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 a compass and map. Getting lost meant really lost, signal fire or message-in-a-bottle lost. 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.
It had me wondering. What if going off the grid became like S.M. Stirling’s “Dies the Fire“, first in his Emberverse Series where the power goes out, permanently. Makes good dystopian story fodder, or even a better sci-fi plot, where the space ship is power dead, no way to signal, let anyone know I’m stranded … before the oxygen runs out … write my last will and testament on the cargo bay wall with a shipping marker. This is what happens when I’m left to the elements too long.
To be truthful, going off-the-grid is invigorating, even if we know we’ll be back after a few messages from our sponsors. It returned me to a time when it was routine to read for hours on end. Sounds like a cheesy line from an eighties Disney movie, but I listened to the wind. Can’t get that when sounds of civilization and the infernal message chime on my smart phone, compete for auditory reception. My head cleared of twenty-first century chaff and ideas flew on a simple pad of paper. Got this great idea for a new story where aliens save humanity from the edge of extinction. Don’t ask me how crashing beach waves nurtured the story line. Maybe it’s the rare moment where my cranial closet is cleaned out and searching for new stuff to clutter it.
Everyone should go off-the-grid now and then. It clears the head, provided you avoid too many rum drinks.
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