We were somewhere northbound on Minnesota Highway 61, of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, when I posted a photo to Twitter of me at an ice bar enjoying a frosty beverage and shivering. Shortly after that picture, I went silent for nearly forty-eight hours. As we continued our drive north to the Bearskin Lodge, our cellular reception slowly faded. When we got so close to Thunder Bay, Ontario that my Blackberry actually went on international roaming, I did the unthinkable and shut it off for the weekend. My wife and I had joined eleven of our friends for a ski weekend in Northern Minnesota, and while the idea of propelling myself forward on fiberglass sticks at death-defying speeds wasn’t compelling for me, the opportunity to jab my wife with the pointy end of a pole was appealing enough to make me unplug from the electronic world for a weekend.
I wasn’t technically shut off from the electronic world. While there was no cellular service in our location in Superior National Forest, we did sort of have internet. The lodge had a satellite connection that was on such a tight bandwidth restriction that half of one “cat playing a piano video” would max out the connection for the day. Seeing as I didn’t want to be the cause of a digital Tragedy of the Commons, I turned the Wi-Fi off on my phone and didn’t turn it on again until the drive home on Sunday.
Instead, I talked with people. I laughed and drank a few beers. I hiked and played broomball and did the sorts of things I did before social media became such a large part of my life. To be honest I had an easier time staying unplugged from Twitter for forty-eight hours than some folks had going thirty minutes without asking me if I could survive forty-eight hours without Twitter. It was a relaxing weekend, and a nice reminder of the value of getting away from the non-stop, always on, post-modern world of being connected to everyone all the time. It was nice to escape the Pavlovian response of checking my Blackberry every time that little red notification light starts flashing like someone just tucked a hockey puck into the back of the net.
While I didn’t actually have a life altering epiphany while I was away in the woods, it was really nice to get away from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Gmail for a weekend and it really did allow me to recharge my batteries—of course that could just be the wicked bump on the back of my head from a particularly vicious fall during Saturday night’s broomball game. Either way, there’s something to be said for shutting it down for a few hours here and there to regain perspective on what is really important. It isn’t always about personal branding development while measuring the ROI based on cross-platform, value-added, thinking outside the box, content creation. Sometimes, it’s about getting a really bad night’s sleep on a tiny bed and spending some time talking to people without a computer screen as an intermediary.
Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” I realized the value of this ethos as I trudged alone through the snowy woods on Saturday. It wasn’t the thick wool socks and gloves, nor the Thinsulate boots and coat, or even the fleece lined hat keeping me warm. It was the burning embers of desire to have a loved one suffering with me out on the trails protecting me from the cold. In other words, one man’s harrowing tale of being in a world without electronic communications is another man’s story of growing a lumberjack beard, reading Walden and coming to the realization of what is really important—having your loved one be just as miserable as you. Honestly, based on how lost I was using the lodge map, a GPS unit would have been nice as well.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go post a bunch of photos of my trip to Facebook because sometimes even new habits die hard.