A lot of us just got back from long weekends or extended vacations and have reached Hump Day in our first week back to our media-saturated, screen-addicted reality. I myself had a three-and-a-half-day weekend in a place in Northern California where cell signal is spotty if not non-existent, and wi-fi is similarly unreliable, even in the hotels. In the last five years I've come to crave such breaks from the internet, which tend not to be complete breaks but only partial breaks with occasional scans of Facebook and the New York Times. But, of course, if something big had happened news-wise, I would have had to jump online with the nearest signal and make sure it was blogged about.
Journalist Melody Kramer just wrote a piece on Poynter bragging about the joys of being able to disconnect on a recent July 4th vacation that sounds like it was about a week long. And even she admits that she wasn't completely disconnected she may have "read back issues of The New Yorker in print" and took some walks, but she also "triaged email every other day, or so, and sporadically tweeted that I was trying really hard not to tweet."
Seriously, people, what the fuck is wrong with us?
I've already shared my unsolicited thoughts on why I find Twitter exhausting, and not that essential to my life, but among media-hounds, bloggers, and journalists I'm probably more the exception there. I am, however, pretty tied to Facebook, as many of us are, and looked to there and Instagram frequently over the weekend to see what terrific and artfully framed things everyone was doing.
But this form of relaxation, and detaching from work life to remember what non-work life feels like, isn't really as relaxing or detached as it once was. At every bar and restaurant I entered with my friends over the weekend we had to find out what the wi-fi password was of course this was also helping us communicate with stragglers who were not with us, because otherwise our texts wouldn't go out. I admit I felt anxiety every time I saw a text go undelivered, and unreplied-to. At other moments I felt like we all needed to put our cell phones in a bag and lock them somewhere, the way people play that game of stacking their phones face down at the dinner table, just in order to enjoy each other and let things play out as they may there really was only one bar in town that we'd all end up in, so why stress?
I talk about this just as a new documentary called Web Junkie is airing on PBS next week about internet-addicted Chinese teens, and just as there was this alarmist piece on a New York Times blog two days ago about the toll that cell phones and tablets and screens in general are taking on small children.
More and more, as connectivity-dependent adults, we're going to view being totally, truly off-the-grid as an amenity, the ultimate form of information detox, taking away the option of staring at our phones and engaging in the secondary, documentary realities of Facebook and Twitter simultaneous with our own. I feel stupid and clichéd even having to say this, but it bears repeating: Our immediate realities can be, in fact, great and exciting without being documented, and a selfie does not prove that you were having fun. Memories, too, are sometimes more precious when they're not photographed.
Remember what it was like to leave town, sit on a beach, and not know or care what your 600 friends, family members, and former classmates were doing that very minute?
Not knowing the locations of these people, and remembering that you don't need to know, feels like the greatest, most satisfying kind of vacation right now. You do not need to tweet, or to explain to your followers why you're not tweeting. Their lives are going on without you, and they also don't need to see a photo of your feet and the frozen cocktail you're sipping. They've been on vacation, and they're familiar with the concept.
In fact, the next time I see someone post such a picture, I'm just going to comment, "Turn off your phone."