I recently returned from a trip to Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan to be exact. Not knowing a whole lot about the country before first visiting, in my mind’s eye I had constructed something in between China circa 400AD and “Mad Max.” I don’t know why, it seems insane to me now because it is. In actuality, Kyrgyzstan has many of the modern amenities we’d all expect, although I do have to complain about a near complete lack of Diet Coke. But that’s not the point. Before the trip, I wrote about how excited I was to disconnect for a few days, to be off the grid and to reconnect with myself. Yeah, that never really happened except in a few isolated spots. Turns out Kyrgyzstan has a pretty great data network and after inserting a new SIM card into my phone, I was as connected in Osh as I would be in Falls Church. That’s not a complaint, but it further drove home something I’ve been thinking about lately – the importance of getting off the grid and how hard that is to actually manage.
Can You Hear Me Now?
The world is a very, very small place. In recent years I have either checked emails, uploaded an Instagram photo or made a phone call in places as unlikely as: Antarctica, the middle of the Chobe River in Namibia, a yurt in Kyrgyzstan, somewhere in the South Pacific and from the middle of ancient structures only recently thought lost to time. That’s not right. We shouldn’t be able to connect to the Internet from any of those places, and yet here we are. In 2017 we can virtually connect from almost any spot on the planet. Almost. There do exist some places around the world where connectivity is a laughable pipedream, but that’s not the point. No, my point here is that thanks to our amazing ability to connect the world, if we want to disconnect, then it has to be a willful act. We have to make the conscious decision to go offline, at least for a little while. But why should we do that in the first place?
Why Being Disconnected is Important
Technology is great and without it I wouldn’t have been able to make this strange job my new career. So, I’m certainly not bashing it outright. But there is a time and place for everything, and when we travel we do so in order to connect with the world around us. That necessarily means also disconnecting from our imaginary world of pixels and Tweets. Travel should be a spiritual journey, it should be about experiencing new and foreign things and realizing that the world is so much more spectacular than anyone ever told us. This can’t be done through a lens or by chasing Pokémon. This can only be accomplished through firsthand, sensory perceptions and followed up by moments of introspection. If you’re not doing this, then why even leave home? Put on your virtual reality headset and pretend you’re somewhere else in the comfort of your living room.
Disconnecting doesn’t only help us better appreciate the act of travel, it’s healthy as well. Both mentally and physically, being online all the time is damaging. Whether it’s from stress or anxiety or the associated physical trauma they create, it’s vital to our own well being that we disconnect periodically. I’m one of the worst offenders at this too; I understand that I’m being fairly hypocritical here. I’m the classic definition of a Type-A East Coaster and while I’m good with that, it has come with its own problems over the years. I’ve actually written an entire post about it, so I won’t repeat myself here, but in order to truly relax and get away from it all, location for me is key. Remote is important otherwise I’d be on my gadgets all day. There’s just no way I could disconnect at home, it wouldn’t work. No, instead I need the act of travel to help with that.
Willful Act of Going Offline
What all this comes down to is that while it’s important to disconnect, it’s something that probably won’t happen organically. Sure, there will be times when you can’t get online, I usually call this panic mode, but unless you’re camping out deep in the mountains somewhere fairly remote, there will be ways in which you can access Twitter, Instagram and email. That means it’s up to you, and not geography, to make the act of disconnection a reality. It’s something you have to consciously decide and, somewhat sadly, usually plan for. While I think it’s a little weird writing those words, ultimately I think it’s a good thing that we have to make that decision ourselves to go offline. If we get to that point, it means we’re ready and prepared to do it. We want to disconnect, instead of having it forced upon us. Once we make the decision and go through the act of NOT being online all the time, the positive effects will be so much greater had we just suddenly found ourselves in a data desert. Growing up in the 1980s, this entire post seems really weird, but it’s the world in which we live today in 2017. Like it or not, it’s where we as a society have found ourselves and so it’s up to us to deal with the effects.
Last year I found myself in one of those amazing overwater bungalows on the languid island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. A modern resort, the WiFi was actually amongst the best I’d found all week and yet, I put the phone back in my bag almost immediately. Time at that moment slowed down and stayed muted for the rest of my day or so at the resort. I can’t tell you exactly what I did. I know a lot of water was involved, as was napping and I’m pretty sure I ate something. It’s all a beautiful blur, a beach-induced dream state but there is one thing I can remember. I can remember how amazingly content and happy I was. Even at the time I was almost skipping from the feeling of being totally and completely at ease. I didn’t have a worry in the world, instead I was happy. Well and truly happy, something that is all too rare for me. Looking back at it all I understand now that I learned an important lesson, that in order to succeed in life, in order to keep moving forward, sometimes we have to slow down to speed up.
Life is about balance, a fact our ancestors understood for millennia, but which we have forgotten in the modern era. We all need to slow down, to take care of ourselves, to be selfish all in the effort to become better people. By helping ourselves, we also help those around us. We are better people and so in turn we lift up with us those we consider most dear. In 2017 though to accomplish this takes Herculean effort, an iron will to turn ourselves off and reboot and in the process to become happier and healthier people.Add to Flipboard Magazine.