During a recent trip to South Africa, I went on a safari into the bush near Botswana. The main lodge there, in Madikwe, seemed to have some sort of cellular service and internet connection, but I had decided prior to departing Los Angeles that I would spend at least three days away from the information matrix.
If the Internet connects us all, then I would be disconnected. No email, no texts (which I don’t do anyway), no Twitter, no Facebook, no Web updates, and no phone calls except in an emergency.
The idea wasn’t to go completely off the grid, without any means of being contacted. What I was hoping for was an opportunity to refocus my attention and recalibrate my energy.
That I got. For three glorious days and nights I looked at animals and birds doing their thing in the wild. I showered outdoors beneath the stars. I fell asleep beside the embers of a fire to the night sounds of the bush, spooky and dissonant. I made love and ate well and generally pleased all my senses, and not once did I feel lost or disconnected from the people that matter to me.
I did, however, feel remarkably more connected to Life. The present now. Those periodic flashes of anxiety about whatever it is I’m fretting about diminished and disappeared. I slept very well and awoke with energy and anticipation.
Strangers became friends. I had conversations with live people. Extended conversations, not pleasant small talk or polished repartee. I read. I thought. I learned a thousand different things about Africa and nature and astronomy. I felt very much alive, and happy for it.
One of the things I thought about was that we might have got this whole “staying connected” thing all wrong. Maybe we’ve been bamboozled by marketing propaganda into believing we need smartphone technology to be a complete person, just as we need a particular kind of deodorant and a certain type of car. Maybe our tendency to stare into screens instead of irises and to “converse” with abbreviations and emoticons isn’t really connectivity at all. Maybe it’s a symptom of our intense (and growing) alienation from each other, from our land, and from ourselves.
No man is an island. Yet our devices, tools to keep us “up to date” on everything at all times, seem to put each of us on our individual atoll, where we shout out in all directions hoping someone will shout back and remind us that we’re not alone, we only feel alone.