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Friday, June 10, 2016

Unplugged

I recently spent time in India and South Africa, and as is often the case in Africa, my Internet access was either limited or non-existent.

And that, I believe, was a good thing. I had Internet/wi-fi access in my Indian hotels in Delhi, Ranthambhore and Agra, but in the lobby only, not in my room. And in South Africa, I had no access at all in the first camp, spotty -- and extremely slow -- access in the office area at the second camp, and very good access in the third camp in the reception area. There was no television or radio in my room, and the only places I saw a newspaper were in Delhi and Agra.

After a couple of days of 'withdrawal,' I found that I didn't mind being unplugged from the world at all. I was able to send and receive a couple of text messages from my daughter, but for the most part, I was cut off from the world. It was liberating not to be bombarded by negative news stories and the latest blatherings and lies of political candidates. If I wondered about local weather, I simply opened the door to my room or unzipped my tent. I did take time to upload a couple of videos or photographs to my Facebook account, but I didn't read anything on my timeline.

Since returning home, I have felt a need to somewhat step away from the many media that daily bombard me with information, requests, etc. I have cable television, the daily newspaper, Facebook, e-mail, texting, phone calls and on-line news. It's all a bit overwhelming and stress-inducing, which is something I usually don't realize until I am forced to go 'cold turkey' and not have access to any of these things. And every so often I disconnect from social media and cable news just to avoid many of the heartbreaking and infuriating stories I come across.

We get so accustomed to being 'connected' all the time that it's hard to remember that life wasn't always like this. When I was a kid, our house had one telephone, a rotary land line. My grandparents had a party line, shared by several nearby houses. We had one television that used an antenna to receive local broadcasts. It was such a thrill when I got my first transistor radio. Telephones were used to make phone calls and nothing else. There was no such device as an answering machine, and no voice mail. If someone wasn't home, we called back later. Research for a school paper or project meant going to the library and checking out books, and using reference books in the library. There was no Google or Wikipedia for us! 

I admit, I do enjoy the ease of getting information -- directions, sample menus, hours of operation, reviews, booking airline tickets -- online. But it's so easy to let our electronic connections keep us away from our face-to-face human connections. It's easy to get overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything going on in the world. And for me and others I know, it's so easy to become weighed down by the endless stories of cruelty and suffering. 

So I think some periods of being unplugged from the cacophony of the world, whether by design or by circumstances, is a good thing. If we allow it, it can let us reconnect with the world around us and with our families and friends. One thing I have learned from my four trips to Africa is the importance of slowing down. Maybe we should all follow 'Africa time,' a more relaxed attitude toward time. I think we would live more stress-free lives if we did.