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. 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, Virginia. 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. There do exist some places around the world where connectivity is a laughable pipe-dream, 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. 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.
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.
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. That means it’s up to you, and not geography, to make the act of disconnection a reality. Growing up in the 1980s, this entire post seems really weird, but it’s the world in which we live today in the modern era. 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. 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 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.