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20 Jul

If You Go Down To The Woods Today

The other week, we went camping. Like, in the woods, which is where you expect to go camping, except that this was really in the woods, the kind of ‘in the woods’ that you only get if you get in a canoe and paddle for two hours. Yes, we did this with two children under five. Yes, we’re crazy.

The craziest thing about the whole exercise was not, however, the fact that we wandered into the woods with our wee rabid honey badgers (the biggest concern there being, of course, that they’d recognize their true home in the wild and revert to their feral natures and overpower us. That was a very real possibility, do not doubt.) No, the craziest – the totally batshit crazypants craziest – thing was that the whole exercise required us to go more or less completely off the grid. There are, after all, no electrical outlets in the wild, no charging stations, and certainly no WiFi. There was, if we paddled out to the middle of the lake, a faint 3G signal, but that required taking electronics out onto open water, and iPhones, as we all know, don’t swim. So, yeah. We were unplugged.

The predictable thing to say here, of course, is that being unplugged was wonderful. Amazing! Exhilarating! Liberating! Free, free at last from the tyranny of THE GADGET! And it was, a little bit. A very little bit. I love having a break from checking email and keeping up on Twitter and Facebook feeds and uploading posts and all that socio-digital stuff. It’s why I love long airplane rides, and weekends. But I don’t need to go to the woods to turn off the Internet feed. All I need to do that is just, you know, turn off the feed. Shut the laptop. Keep the apps closed. Easy.

What is not so easy – and not so desirable, if you’re me – is unplugging all the other stuff, the stuff that I use to create, and to recreate. Cameras and videos and iPhone camera apps. iTunes. E-readers. I use gadgets to document our adventures and our misdaventures, and to make stuff out of all that documentary material. I love doing that. It relaxes me. As does reading, and listening to music, which I mostly do with the help of gadgets, especially when I’m away from home, because books are heavy, as are pianos. Once upon a time I might have just purchased a disposable waterproof camera and some cheap paperback novels and gone without music for a trip like this, but that was a different time, and a more inconvenient one. I live in an age in which I can hold a camera and a video camera and a music library and more books than I could ever carry in one palm-sized device. That is AWESOME. It’s also perfect for backcountry camping and canoe trips, which don’t allow for transportation of a lot of stuff unless you travel with a Sherpa, which I don’t.

So I missed my gadgets, sort of desperately. I managed to eke a bit of use out of my iPhone by doing everything in my power to preserve the charge (we brought a solar charger that turned out to be only marginally less useful than a pine cone), which allowed me to do a bit of photo-editing and Instagramming, and I brought a waterproof point-and-shoot for general photography, so it wasn’t dire, but still. I’d have liked to have been able to bring my e-reader and lounge around on the rocks reading vampire apocalypse novels (the paperback version of The Passage will totally sink a canoe; you can’t go backcountry with that kind of book unless it’s on an e-reader, for real) and enjoying the lake breeze. I’d also have liked to have been able to shoot some app-enabled Super-8 video of my kids frolicking in the water, and to have played a little quiet music over dinner, and to have consulted GoogleMaps to figure out exactly where we were relative to transcontinental flight paths (we saw a lot of really big planes in the sky.) I mean, I survived, and even enjoyed myself – I’m not a pathological tech addict – but it was would have been nicer if I’d had a functional solar charger, and a waterproof case for my iPhone. Way nicer. So maybe I’m not going to be totally out of sorts when the Apocalypse comes and the grid gets wiped out, but I will be kind of irritated.

How about you? Could you be comfortable off the grid? Could you give up all your gadgetry – the cameras, the videos, the iTunes, anything that requires power – and still be reasonably happy? Am I a twisted, twisted soul for feeling lost without my camera? Should I have just sucked it up and carried my shit-ton weighted paperback copy of The Passage on my back and, you know, learned from it? Dare I try to go completely without gadgetry the next time we do this, like, this coming weekend? IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE?