Perhaps what impressed me most was that my laptop remained in my backpack the entire trip.
It's interesting how the most commonly held meanings of certain words change over time, as society evolves and devolves and the world we live in transitions and transforms. Or maybe it’s mostly a technological thing.
Take "unplug" or "disconnect" and the various definitions or contemporary meanings of those two words. There was a time when unplug meant to simply unplug something. Maybe you unplugged the toaster when you were finished enjoying your peanut butter toast. Maybe you were talking on your land line phone with someone and your call was interrupted by some sort of glitch, and when you subsequently called the person back or they called you, someone invariably said "I guess we got disconnected."
Toasters and interrupted phone calls? That's not today's versions of unplug or disconnect. It's what we try to do - and by "we" I mean Americans considerably more than anyone else who occupies this planet with us - usually with mixed success at best, when we on the rare occasion try to break the grasp of our constantly plugged in and connected lives, whether we're at work or at play.
Is it even possible for us stressed out, depressed, obsessive-compulsive, manic, money-obsessed, career-driven people to simply get away for a little bit? To break free? Maybe for just a few short, precious days? Or do we feel the heat of someone else, some phantom person, who might be happy to have our job and constantly check email (and respond to those emails, of course) even on vacation, and maybe that eager beaver conjured up in our minds might be seen as more capable and hard-working in our job than we are? So we check emails, and we respond to them. And of course we answer the phone if it rings and on our screen we see it's someone that fully expects us to answer, even if we're supposed to be officially on vacation.
My wife and I are fresh off spending four days with friends at big and beautiful Lake Vermilion in Minnesota's Iron Range. Going in, all six of us vowed we were going to unplug...we were going to disconnect from our ultra plugged in and connected lives.
And we did. And we didn't. If our efforts were part of a school assignment, our teacher would probably have given us, collectively, a B-. A reasonably solid effort, perhaps, but certainly middle-of-the-pack.
We did not entirely shun the technology available to us, and it came especially in handy for non-work purposes. When you're on a pontoon for much of the day over three days, you're going to want to have a soundtrack, so phones, wireless speakers and Bluetooth technology were certainly go-to techno-resources. And with Lake Vermilion being Minnesota's fifth largest lake and being home to a whopping 365 islands, when dusk is upon you, your gas tank is on vapors and you still have a ways to go to get back to the house you're renting, you're going to complement your old-fashioned paper map-reading skills via with some GPS technology via your phones.
So, yes, while some of our efforts, admittedly, barely rose above average on the grading scale, we absolutely, positively went a little primitive, if by primitive in today’s world I mean we basked in sunshine and fresh air more than any other activity. The large house had several flat-screen televisions and not one of them was watched. Laptop computers and electronic tablets were packed for the trip, and not taken out of their bags or cases. I still simply cannot believe that I went five whole days without touching my laptop.
But these damn phones. A smartphone barely bigger than your hand is all you need to stay one screen tap or swipe from the digital world that we lean on so much. I checked my work email several times a day, forwarded several on to colleagues, and replied to many. My wife has some major things going on at work that she's responsible for, and she won't pretend she wasn't communicating with various colleagues, some as far away as China. Two of our friends are college faculty, so when they found themselves staring at their phones and swiping repeatedly, it was mostly while they were shopping for summer hats. But their husbands weren't quite as fortunate. One is a manager and someone on his staff was having an issue with a client, which fell onto his shoulders to deal with. Another husband got a phone call as we were boarding the pontoon late one morning, looked at the screen and - How many times have we all uttered these dreaded five words? - said, "I have to take this." It was his supervisor, and he just knew he couldn't ignore the call.
The grass was long when we got home and the birdfeeders were empty. But they were bumped down my priority list by the desperate need to reconnect, to plug myself back into the outlet to the world. I opened my laptop that was probably experiencing serious abandonment issues and spent around three hours catching up on the websites of all the newspapers and other things I read every day.
Fully informed, I thought I’d feel more whole once again, or at least I’d feel less stressed about being so out of the loop for so long. But the level of my satisfaction was middling at best. I thought I’d feel almost euphoric...an information-induced high, but there was very little of that. So while my wife and kid mowed the grass, I walked on the fresh-cut blanket of green and filled the birdbaths and all of the feeders. The birds were delighted.
I felt better. Not plugged into anything necessarily, but definitely connected in some way, to something.