As I sit here on a beach in an undisclosed location, enjoying my summer vacation, I am (if I want to be) totally connected. I am able to write for this blog, check all my messages (voice, text, and email), read an e-book, and watch CNN instead of the seagulls and the waves. I am “away” but ostensibly still in the same spot I am at home, at everyone’s beck and call, that is if I choose to be, but “I would prefer not to,” quoting a line from my favorite Herman Melville story, “Bartleby the Scrivener.”
Back in 1888 the great English poet William Wordsworth wrote the poem “The World Is Too Much With Us.” When you read those words it is hard to believe it was not written about this time and place in history, but even back then Wordsworth saw the world shrinking and the loss of the natural way of things.
Consider these prescient first lines of the poem:
The world is too much with us; late and soon/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—/Little we see in Nature that is ours;/ We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
These words are so apropos in 2012, when everyone has to be connected to everybody seemingly all the time. As I sit here and watch people coming in and out of the ocean, one thing I note is that they check cell phones before they go in and as soon as they come out. They are dripping wet, falling onto a blanket, and making certain they haven’t missed something or someone. The salient point here is that we have reached a moment in time when we basically have no time to be alone, to be free, to be disconnected and on our own. Technology is not at fault here; we only have ourselves to blame.
During this vacation we have taken our children to various places like animal farms, amusement parks, and restaurants. I don’t think I have been in a single place where I haven’t seen people jabbering on a phone, usually at the table next to mine, or texting away with their thumbs hitting those little numbers and letters as if life itself depended on it. I have to wonder how important any of these connections is and why it is necessary to hold a cell phone in one hand as people do an infinite amount of things with the other.
I myself have been guilty on this vacation of being on the Internet too much, writing and editing and not taking time to just let things be. I have made a decision though: this will be the last thing I write or edit until I return to the real world (whatever that is now). I do not have to write, to answer emails, to return business calls because I am on vacation. I am away, and I want it to be like the old way when “away” meant out of reach, out of touch, and liking every peaceful minute of it.
I recall when I was taking courses in Paris back in the early 1990s, and I was totally disconnected from home. To get a letter out to my parents meant waiting about a week for them to get it and then another week for a reply letter. I definitely looked forward to those hard copy reassurances that my folks missed me. I sent them postcards if I took a side trip to Amsterdam or Cologne, and once in a while I would stand on line in the evening waiting for a payphone outside my flat on the Avenue des Gobelins to make a call home. All of these connections took time and effort and, quite frankly, they seemed to mean more to me back then.
How impersonal is a text message? Even an email seems to take more time and thought, but a text is like a throwaway line from the ether. I see my teenage nieces and nephews texting all the time, the muscles in their thumbs bulging like an Olympic weightlifter’s biceps. They want to see their friends, they text. They want to say hello, they text. They want to get a pizza, and so on. I don’t imagine they would even consider picking up a land line and making an old-fashioned phone call like I used to do on a Friday night to see if my friends wanted to go out. Those days are long gone along with phone booths, phone books, and fingers that did the walking. We’re all thumbs now, it seems, and everyone seems positively giddy about it.
But back to my vacation and getting away from it all. I am turning off my cell phone, putting away the laptop, and I am unplugging myself from the world. I don’t want to know about what’s happening in New York or LA or at the London Olympics. I don’t want to know about how the Mets are doing, how Jets training camp is going, or if the Knicks made another trade. I don’t want to know about the neighbor’s barbecue or my uncle’s block party, and no one back there needs to know every detail of my vacation either. They’re not going to get a tweet out of me, that’s for sure.
Years ago my Mom used to say that if someone was talking to himself he was either crazy or had money in the bank. These days neither applies, as people are walking all over and conversing through hands-free phones. They are not talking to themselves but to their vast populace of technological buddies, and they seem infinitely happy about not being out of touch. I will leave them to their own devices (yes, I know, but I couldn’t resist), but I am going in the other direction.
I want my voice mailbox to be filled; I want my inbox to overflow until people tire of seeing my “away message.” I want to be able to sit on the beach and not worry about something beeping or ringing. I want to climb a mountain and be sure the only connection I make is seeing the sunset and being at peace with being at rest. This is my time and, besides my family, I’m not going to share any more of it with anyone.
So when my daughter asks to use the laptop to go onto Club Penguin, she can have at it. If my son wants to play his SpongeBob games, that’s fine with me, but if my wife asks me about checking my e-mail, I’m going say “I would prefer not to,” quoting Bartleby again. This is it for me for now; I am officially signing off. I am going down to the ocean and listen to the waves and the seagulls and feel the wind on my face. If I hear old Triton blowing on “his wreathèd horn,” that will be a bonus old Wordsworth could appreciate, but I’ll settle for not hearing or seeing anything electronic until I go home. Until then the world will not be too much with me if at all, and that is what a vacation is meant to be.
Enjoy your summer. Follow my lead and get away from it all. Vacationers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your electronic chains.
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