I had been to Las Vegas a couple of times. Once when I transferred Greyhounds when I was 13. The other for an airline transfer. Leaving the airport in the wee hours of Wednesday morning with Natali was the first time I'd actually seen the strip, even though from afar.
Except for her to walk her dog, the two of us didn't leave the apartment until Friday. We spent 2 1/2 full days just talking about everything imaginable and getting to know each other. Nearly nonstop from when we woke up in the morning until we went to bed. It was exhausting but, in some distantly familiar way, exhilarating.
For those two days, I tried putting the notion of Digital Detox into practice. Despite the glaring irony and inconsistency, that have their reasons, I've been concerned about living and seeing the world electronically for a long time. After reading a fantastic piece (online) by Andrew Sullivan about his struggles to reclaim his humanity and essence from cyberspace, I decided to give it a shot.
For these two days, the phone was in another room and the TV stayed off until there was an actual specific purpose for either of them. Facebook? Ha! Nearly a nonentity.
What I discovered? It was so much easier to concentrate on the conversation, focus on who was in the room, and maintain a sense of positivity and presence without the distraction of having "the whole world" right there in front of me.
Out of sight, out of mind. The simple act of making the iPhone a non-reflexive, non-habitual entity made the entire process work and I felt reconnected to the "real" world. That's something, not coincidentally, that also happens when I travel in Latin America without cellular voice or data. And, a corresponding and inevitable disconnection also typically occurs when I get to a hostel with...you guessed it...wifi! Then it's like Starbucks. A roomful of people posting selfies and oblivious to each other's existence.
Peru was an inadvertent case study in that. I spent two of my three months off-the-grid at Chris' eco-hostel 13,000 ft. up the Andes skirt. The only power was gathered by modest solar cells. Everything after sundown was done by candle light. Wifi? Ha! Slow, rudimentary cellular internet at best. And it didn't work most of the time. Internet wasn't a taken-for-granted utility. It was a sparsely used tool. Hour long trips were planned to go down the mountainside to Huaraz just to get it. And not very often.
In the meantime? People...talked! To other real people! Who were IN THE ROOM WITH THEM! Eureka! When they weren't talking ? Reading. Writing. Taking world class hikes. Just sitting down. Shutting up. "Being". Without any contrived external entertainment.
It was a bit unnerving at first, but the mental batteries recharged and clarity of thought and focus returned. These weren't just my observations. Other people from different backgrounds around the world noticed, commented on it, and appreciated it as well. There were ways to bring wifi to The Hof if Chris really wanted to. He didn't. That's exactly why.
One other Peruvian observation: even after all that time unplugged I still an unconsciously resumed old habits as soon as I returned to "civilization". Our brains are being rewired and reprogrammed by our machines.
Another thing I noticed last week: How politics changes my entire mood, vibe, energy, and general outlook. And, I don't need to be discussing it for that to happen. Social media or TV? Doesn't matter. As soon as election "news" or commentary is put in front of me, and I put any degree of focus in its direction: ZAP! Whatever positive energy that was there before was gone. Cynicism floods in to replace it. And it was sometimes difficult to get it back. More so the longer I was immersed in it. I would have another stark in-person example provided for me the day I finally began the real"trip"! (Foreshadowing now!)
There is an incredibly instructive, overreaching society-based idea to be mined on that last point. Obviously, I'm not unique in that regard. I'm simply not wanting to poke this complex observation into a fucking iPhone while lying on my sleeping bag behind a truckstop in the desert! Not the "cushiest" place I've written! (Foreshadowing Forever!)
Sadly, this little two-day experiment didn't last. Natali left Friday night to stay with her cousin so she could take her to the airport early Saturday morning. I was alone in her apartment, so my flirtation with cyber-celibacy ended abruptly. It started with me innocently editing and posting a YouTube video. Before I knew it I was right back where I was. Habitually grabbing the phone like a crack pipe. And wondering how this was going to be when I finally hit the road! A smartphone? That had never been attempted!
The rest of the weekend wasn't worth talking about. The TV came on, phones went in hand, and that short, surprisingly intense connection we'd forged was mostly gone. I suppose my little visit to Las Vegas was a miniscule microcosm for what I was describing about Peru. No phone: human connection. As soon as it returns? Poof! Zombie from Electronistan!
In retrospect, I should have left Sunday. But, since I'd not given myself time to think thru everything thoroughly before I left, I needed a post office. Or, so I thought! (Make Foreshadowing Great Again!)
One thing for sure: by Monday morning, it was obviously past time for me to fly...