Staying connected: broadband and time off

I went on a three day hike on the Appalachian Trail with one of my kids who is off to college in a few weeks. We had a glorious time hiking one of the most remote and isolated portions of the entire AT, which also happens to be one of the most scenic (right here in southwest Virginia). I had no laptop with me, no broadband access, and cellphone coverage so sketchy that we only managed a couple of quick text messages to the wife assuring her we had not fallen off a mountain.

For three days, I was off the grid, and it was wonderful. And nothing bad happened because I was not checking email three times a day. I need to do that more often, and I predict that in the near future, more of us will be deliberately planning and arranging "off the grid" broadband-free vacations. In past years, our beach trips have slowly become something less and less appealing to me because I seem to have to spend a couple of hours every day working. People call and say, "I know you are on vacation, but...." It's the "but..." that I have learned to dread. "...but could you just take a quick look at this document I just emailed?"

It was not that long ago that we measured response time to memos and reports in days and weeks, and now we measure it in hours. Just recently, I had someone call me up at 11 AM, quite upset, that I had not responded to an email they sent at 9 AM. On that particular day, I was out in the field and had had neither the time nor a broadband connection. But somehow we have come to assume 24/7/365 instant access to the 'net.

It's not healthy, and we should all take a deep breath and smell the flowers along a trail through the woods more often....without our cellphones and laptops.

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Andrew, you are so right! I just spent 10 days on an island off the coast of Maine that was without regular electricity and just beyond the range of my iPhone, email and voicemail access. The first couple of days I found myself charging my iPhone and laptop every time the generator was started and hiking to the highest points on every side of the island hoping to get a couple of bars of signal to check voice and email messages.

After exploring 75 acres of woods, fields and and shoreline, finally finding the only spot on the island where I could find enough signal to intermittently check messages or make a brief call, I realized that being off the grid was an amazing way to get in a real vacation. I put away my iPhone, let the voice mail and email servers do their jobs and had a blast walking, sailing, swimming, clamming and enjoying summer, in the most beautiful place. I enjoyed 7 glorious days without beeping, ringing and checking my messages incessantly.

My first day back, today, I am getting back to people, as I wade through my inboxes, realizing that the world continued to function in my absence, and that I came back more relaxed as I have ever been from a vacation where I was always connected.

While I got some great excercise rooting around the island looking for signal, I got even better pictures and video of amazing sunrises and sunsets, forests and fauna by taking my camera along instead of my iPhone, and bringing back some amazing pictures and memories. So let's catch up when you get back from your trip, and I wish you some cellphone and laptop free time away. And I look forward to NOT hearing from you until you return...