A new catalogue from REI arrived in the mail yesterday, and as I flipped through the first few pages I noticed our tent was featured, along with some new accessories. Among the various options to trick out one's tent was an 'entertainment center loft', a sleeve and hooks serving to conveniently attach an iPad so everyone can 'stay connected as they want to be' while camping. I was standing alone in my kitchen with the catalogue, and I let out an audible groan, for nobody's benefit but my own. I do get it, I am totally hooked to my iPhone and value staying connected. Once I left the office environment, with constant access to a computer, and started being on the go with kids every day, having that link to family, friends, and the general news of the world became super important to my sanity. But I have also found myself too sucked in at times. I have been known to bury my nose flipping through photos on Instagram when I should be watching the children I am photographing to share. I try not to judge myself too harshly, because we all need a little time to zone out in this life, but I think most of us would agree that we need a break from it all now and again too.
Part of what I love most about camping is the opportunity to unplug. I became smitten as a preteen, long before iPhones, when the novelty was escaping television and land lines. My father used to take me on the back of his motorcycle with a tiny tent that sprung into shape when tossed in the air, like magic. I'd stroll around the campgrounds looking for other kids to befriend, we'd check in with our neighbors on the latest word from the ranger over the weather. We would build a sense of community, then just as effortlessly, move to the next camp, rebuilding with a new group the following night.
Possibly because it was Father's Day weekend and everyone was on their best behavior, but I saw more simple, unplugged fun this past trip than I have laid eyes on in a very long time... and it felt really good. A gang of grade schoolers took turns launching each other out in a canoe with lots of shouting and coordination to keep stylish socks and sneakers dry, many pairs of father's and son's collected kindling, parents set up on the shore with beach chairs and cocktails while kids splashed in water far too chilly for my cold blood, neighbors lent matches and tips, Little Smith barely whined or complained (not always the case!) because he was too busy with his own small chores and responsibilities of camp... just those basic, kind moments and exchanges with the people in our present company that can easily go missing when we are all focused on 'staying as connected as we want to be'.
I always find discussions about technology and 'simpler times' frustrating and confusing. I am excited for my children to live in a world where the awareness of and connection to every culture around the globe is at their fingertips.There is tremendous value in access to information, and I try not to take that for granted. I certainly would rather prepare for discussions about moderation and technology with my kids than try to explain the kind of prejudice and ignorance that prevailed in those 'simpler times'. For my money progress is good, provided it's grounded in perspective.
Currently I am fixed to the laptop with my trusty iPhone by my side, ready to check the weather, stream a podcast, or just text with friends at any moment. But personally, I draw the line at camping. It's the one sacred place where I can still shut off all streams in and out, and just be present with the actual people and environment around me. I am grateful that James shares this view, and hopeful that our children will also grow to appreciate the value of an occasional escape from the privilege of technology.