On a cold January weekend, my 4-year-old son and I were hunkered down in our basement, lights off, flashlights on, “going on a hunt for pigs.” He’d grab them up and carry them back to our campsite, where we had a tent and various camping gear spread out on the floor, and then he would magically turn the pigs we “caught” into hot dogs to roast over our “fire.”
It was a blast for both of us, and it got me thinking that I need to make an effort to get my family back out camping, afterall, I bought and restored Westy with an eye on future adventures.
I grew up going to campgrounds from Van Buren all the way to Florida, with my dad’s late 80’s Chevy conversion van and a Nomad trailer in tow. We’d spend every weekend at our spot in Van Buren, and in the summer we’d be a little more ambitious with the trips to Florida or to the Smoky Mountains. There are of course the memories of the long hours in the car (with my trusty Sony Walkman and a copy of Cinderella’s “Long Cold Winter” getting WORN OUT) but I also look back on the campfires, the hours spent fishing, and the time we simply spent together with none of the “regular life” stuff hovering over the family. The biggest worry we had was which of one of my siblings would be allowed to bring their bicycle on the trip, and the near constant battle to keep my daredevil brother away from things like train trestles.
The most valuable of that time was spent when there was nothing to do, and I would find something to do. My son’s imagination was fired up about going on a hunt for pigs (?!?) just like mine would build volcanos out of rocks or see how far a rock would skip… I’m talking HOURS of this stuff, and I fear that those moments of nothing to do are harder to find. Think about what happens when you’re bored. As a grown adult, the second you don’t have something else to do, my guess is that your hand hits all of your pockets until you find the smartphone. That gateway to nearly the entirety of human knowledge that we have somehow reduced into a machine for hurling insults at those that don’t share our political views, that’s the elixir that ends the scourge of boredom!
Or is it?
Are you really doing anything when you’re bored and pull out the phone, or are you simply filling the time? I’ll tell you this: I have worked in radio for 20 years (this year!) in everything from overnight board guy to senior management, and I can’t think of one email I’ve ever gotten that actually couldn’t wait. I can think of one phone call I’ve gotten (“You need to get here, your son is being born!”) that couldn’t wait, but I know there are hundreds of thousands of emails, texts, and calls that wasted precious time I should’ve spent being. Literally being, with all due credit to Rand Russell, a human in the act of being.
The trouble is that there are legitimate needs to be reachable. My parents aren’t necessarily young anymore, and I need to be reachable to them. The kid that comes to the house to take care of the dogs while we’re out gallivanting around nature needs to be able to reach us in an emergency. This is where you feel like you could take the smartphone with you on your journey, but just remove all the apps that waste your time. No social media apps, no email, no web browser, you could just put your phone in emergency mode and be just fine.
But you won’t.
I’d challenge a contention that you can carry any kind of smart phone and not find yourself accessing those features for even a day or two at a time, let alone a week off the grid. Basic human willpower isn’t something that will let the majority of smartphone owners do such a thing. In fact, doctors say that diving into the web activates the same reward center in your brain that causes heroin addicts to continually go back for more. Your smart phone is tantamount to a highly addictive and destructive drug. Wrap your mind around that for a second.
That’s why I love this:
It’s a credit-card sized phone that’s only that: a phone. You can be called on it, and you can call on it, and that’s that. No texts, no emails, no bings, pings, pongs, zaps or nav. Get lost? (When is the last time you got lost? Would it be that terrible if you did?) Navigate your way out. Wonder what kind of bait to use for a specific fish? Buy some hot dogs, some night crawlers, and some bread and get down to the business of figuring it out. No asking Siri or Alexa or Sophie or Cortana or any kind of A.I. Instead, ask AL, the guy that sells the bait. Need to know the time? Ok, it has a clock too.
It’s costs $150 to buy it, and you pay $5 a month for it to work, but that’s all it does. Here’s a quick blurb from their website:
“The products we use need to respect us. Our devices should serve, not enslave us. We don’t want to buy more, we don’t want to be told we’re not enough, to be tracked, or reduced to some data point.”
I know, $150 is pretty steep, but I can tell you this with certainty: I’ve spent much more on things that were a lot less good for me, and I’m guessing you could say the same.