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Friday, August 14, 2015

Plugged In Or Unplugged?

This morning I sent an e-mail and a few photographs to the woman in western Siberia who was the director of the orphanage from where I adopted my daughter more than 10 years ago. Although she doesn't speak English and I don't have a Cyrillic keyboard on my computer, I use an online translation program to put my words into Russian. Then I use my knowledge of Russian to correct case endings, gender errors, etc.

This started me thinking about how wonderful it is to be able to communicate with people on the far side of the world. Through e-mail and Facebook, I stay in touch with friends in Russia, Turkey, Kenya and Botswana. These are people I have met and befriended during my travels, and it is nice to stay in touch with them, all for the cost of my Internet connection.

Although I often think about abandoning Facebook after another onslaught of stories about cruelty to children and animals, or about the senseless slaughter of yet another endangered African animal, I never can bring myself to pull the plug. How else would I be able to chat with one of my terrific guides in Botswana about his upcoming year-long job in the U.S.? How else would I be able to message my guide from Kenya about my upcoming trip to his country and make plans to meet him for lunch or dinner?

There are days when I am so overwhelmed by all the negative stories and pleas for money that I am tempted to shut down my FaceBook account. But then I think about all the people I 'know' from around the country and around the world, and I just can't disconnect. It's definitely a two-edged sword, however, and I have unfriended and blocked some people and organizations. But overall, I guess the positives outweigh the negatives. And FaceBook allows me to keep up with my beloved wolves of Yellowstone's Lamar Canyon, as well as offering a forum for promoting my fledgling photography Web site..

I am old enough to know about life before the advent of 'social media.' I remember when e-mail was just beginning to come onto the scene, and when doing research meant making a trip to the library, not turning to Google for information. College term papers were done on an electric typewriter rather than on a computer. Finding one's way to a new destination meant fighting with a paper road map, not listening to the voice on a GPS.

Keeping up with social media can become addictive, but I have found that during trips to Africa in places where there is no wi-fi or Internet, after a couple of days of adjustment I get along just fine without being connected. It's a good feeling to not be bombarded with news of the latest natural disaster, scandal or controversy. Time away gives me a chance to live more 'in the moment' as do the people whose lives are always devoid of instant communication. It gives me a chance to focus on the landscapes, sounds and animals around me.

Like most things, social media and 24/7 news has its advantages and disadvantages. I have learned to step away when I need to, whether that means traveling someplace that doesn't have access or simply turning my phone and the television off early in the evening so I can sit on the patio or read a book. Sometimes the old ways -- sitting outside on a warm summer evening or reading a good book -- are still the best ways.