What happens when the obvious is no longer obvious? If I dare to suggest that we could live a full, hearty and healthy life without a single electronic device, who would believe me these days? Most people say things like, “I don’t know how I ever lived before my i-Phone 5,” meaning that the i-Phone 4 was already the Stone Age and they couldn’t imagine a life so primitive. Gary Snyder was once accused of suggesting we go back to Neanderthal times and he said something to the effect of, “Hey, I wouldn’t mind just going back to the 1920’s (technologically-speaking) when food was just called food and cars hadn’t choked the planet and the mail service delivered letters and ships got you across the ocean.”
At any rate, I’m not about to get into that old tired argument about technology, it’s just the doorway into my own personal reminder that I spent two-and-a-half blissful days up at The West Point Inn on Mt. Tamalpais with four families, no electricity, no computers and all analog games. And it was wonderful. Yes, we did use battery-powered flashlights and propane lanterns and gas stoves, but the accent was wholly on natural intelligence over artificial, smart people over Smartboards, face time over Facebook. I played acoustic piano (formerly known as “piano”), there were a few guitars and ukuleles and always our voices. We played cards, word games, chess, we read books (the paper kind with a front and back cover), we talked, we drew pictures (with Zadie). We walked and hiked at all hours of the day, rocked on the front porch, cooked, ate, cleaned. And okay, I’ll admit it, people’s cellphones worked and sometimes people talked on them or checked messages, but it was to the side of the usual obsession.
My wife and I walked down the mountain to Mill Valley, a hearty two-hour hike, and then took a bus to Sausalito, a boat to the SF Ferry Building, a streetcar back home, slowly re-entering the urban landscape. Once back home, we unpacked, read the mail, got Zadie ready for nap— and then, yes, back to the computer and the 72 e-mails with 4 of substance, a peek at Facebook and off to this blog. My little time “gone fishing” won’t rid of me of these habits and like so many, they have become seemingly essential to my daily business. But perhaps not as much as I think. No one missed me, the world went on and I was happy.
The moral of the story? We social creatures crave community, we physical creatures need exercise, we spiritual creatures long for connection. For most of human history, we got the first by knowing our neighbors, the second by walking and working, the third by learning the land we inhabited. Hiking in the woods with friends was a three-in-one. These couple of days marked a return to “the old ways” and a life with a different thickness to a reality unmediated by screens. Yes, writing this at my computer is also a form of “real life,” but somehow it seems important to remember that ultimately the whole arsenal of electronic connection is mostly a substitute for the real deal. Or at its best, an extension.
So next time someone says, “I can’t imagine how we lived before…”, send them up to the West Point Inn.