Week 49: Fast From Technology

When I was in elementary and middle school, for one week each year we’d celebrate something called No TV Week, during which you and your loved ones were supposed to eschew the boob tube for seven days in order to remember what really matters in life.

It was, bar none, the worst week of the year.

For starters, there were no activities assigned to take the place of lost TV time.  It was just a normal work week without the companionship of Darkwing Duck, Wishbone, or the students of Bayside High to help me relax after a long day of multiplying fractions and reading about U.S. colonial history.  I didn’t spend more time reading during No TV Week, though perhaps that was the intention.  I had somewhat longer conversations with my parents at dinner time, but at eight years old it’s not as though we were discussing the complications of the First Gulf War.  I thought that the anti-holiday had gone the way of the buffalo until a search online reveals that it’s merely expanded into Screen-Free Week, a fast that still convinces millions of otherwise sane people to trade the warm, embracing glow of their electronic screens for cold, sterile nature.  Unfortunately, I’ve never heard the phrase, “If you can’t beat them, mock them from afar,” so against my better judgment, I’m signing up.

For one entire week, I’ve decided to forgo all forms of technology – the computer, the internet, television, and my iPhone.  I’ll write with pen and paper, read books, and live the life of an outdoorsman, at least as much as one can accomplish while living within the borders of New York City.  Though I’ve had my qualms with No TV Week in the past, the experience will hopefully prove to have some benefit now that it’s under the guise of a manly challenge.  I’ve had great luck in the past with challenges that connected me with my inner Jeremiah Johnson.  Maybe technology is the reason I can’t grow proper facial hair!

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To begin with the best possible circumstances for success, Q and I plan a weekend camping trip to Bear Mountain State Park – the lack of electrical outlets and poor cell phone reception should provide the constraints I need to deal with technology withdrawal with little incident.  At least that was the idea.

We arrive at the rental car location early Saturday morning to find we’ve received a free upgrade, which any other week would be cause for celebration.  But our lowly compact car has been replaced with a sleek SUV with enough electronics to function as a mobile Brookstone.  Even after I turn off the satellite radio, GPS, and Bluetooth, putting the car in reverse automatically brings up the rear view camera on the dash.  It’s inescapable.

As we get on the highway, I hand Q the directions I printed out before my tech fast began.  She points out the hypocrisy so you don’t have to: “So in order to go without technology, you’re first using the computer, the internet, and the printer?”  But I don’t see it as any different than the addict who does one last bit of drugs before walking through the doors at the rehab center.  I’m still going to rehab.  So what if it took a few false starts in between checking social media before I was able to disconnect?  (“Starting now.  Ok, starting now.  No, really, starting now.”)  The electronics are off.

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But even beyond the trunk camera, other technologies wheedle their way back into my life, sometimes supernaturally.  The radio somehow turns on at some point on the trip and stays on for a good ten minutes before I even realized it.  Right before we enter the gate to the state park, the GPS lady on Q’s phone suddenly tells us to make a left, even though we thought we turned her off hours ago.  We’ve relied so heavily on her guidance that she now knows to speak up whenever she sees me reading a map.

We make it to Bear Mountain five minutes before dusk falls and the park closes.  I rush Q out of the car and we run over to the scenic point that overlooks the Hudson Valley to take a picture.  As Q hands me the camera, she asks if taking pictures voids my abstinence from technology.  I say, “One picture won’t hurt,” and right on cue, the camera fumbles out of my hand and falls onto a rock below our feet.

After a good few minutes of panic and distress, we’re able to bring the camera back to life, though a long crack along its side will always be a reminder of my lapse in self-control.  The rest of the night is uneventful, save for some confusion and grumpiness while trying to set up the tent, though that would have happened with or without the technology ban.  The next morning, the first thing I do upon waking is ask Q to check the weather, not even realizing that I’ve made her my phone surrogate.  She’s not as amenable to her new role as Siri might be.

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We’ve planned out a long hike for today in the hopes of escaping the boundaries of cellular networks and further temptation.  I printed out a worded description of the trail route, foolishly assuming a map would be available at the trailhead.  Instead we find signage so deteriorated by sun and rain that it is no longer readable, and a piece of paper taped to its front, directing hikers to scan a QR code to download the map to their phone.  I sincerely start wondering if I had been cursed by anyone recently.

The trail is at least well blazed so we venture on without a map in the hopes that the verbal instruction will be clear enough to follow on its own.  But after the first few turns rely more on faith than intuition, I once again bend the rules to look up the map on Q’s phone.  However, we apparently were successful in escaping cell phone reception, so the only thing that pops up on her iPhone are the words “Server Not Responding,” though I imagine the full text of the error message actually reads, “Server Not Responding to Lying Liars Who Can’t Even Go a Day Without Checking Their Phones.”

Thankfully, Q does not suffer from the same spatial unawareness I do, so we manage to walk the trail as intended and come out unscathed, save for the incident with the garden snake that came out of nowhere.  But since Q was the only one who saw it happen, I can safely say the incident was that I acted very maturely and did not scream like a little girl at a One Direction concert.  Walking the trail for two hours is a sufficient distraction, but it’s far too brief.  On the ride back home that evening, I wonder how I’ll possibly stay true to my fast over the next five days in the city when I couldn’t even make it two days surrounded by nature.

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front cover pic medium

Want to read more? You’ve reached the end of the preview, but the full text of this entry and many more can be found in my book, BE A MAN: How I Spent One Year Drinking, Shaving, Farming, and Fathering My Way Toward Masculinity.

Click on the book cover and you’ll find more information on how you can purchase the book in paperback and e-reader versions.

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