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Across the Fence: Off the Grid

The other day, at a book stall at a fair, a fellow author was appalled that I didn’t have a Square to my phone to have potential customers pay with a debit or credit card. Her face fell even more when I told her that I didn’t even have a smart phone. “But you have to have this!” she insisted. My answer was a blunt “No”. Here’s why.

Isolation instead of interaction – another side of technology. (Photo: Shane Rounce on Unsplash.com)

First of all: I don’t have to have anything just because somebody else thinks so. I would have been flooded with thermomixes, microwaves, smoothie blenders, Ugg boots, woks, flat screen TVs, fitbits, air fryers, fancy cosmetics, and whatnot. All to the extent that each got a season’s use until it ran out of fashion or needed to be upgraded. Or just to be able to say that I have one of the kind, too? Well, I have all that I need, and I’m not telling you what to buy either.

My second point is way more important: I don’t want to be available 24/7. My mobile phone is about as much as I want to handle. The other night, it rang at three in the morning – some superfluous call by an even more superfluous 800-number most probably from an indifferent caller from a different time zone. Guess how I appreciate a call that startles me out of my deepest sleep, just a bit over an hour before I have to get up! I am aware that on a smart phone you can switch off the ring tones, the beeps of incoming emails, the signals for tweets, Facebook comments, and messages etc. But then – why have one in the first place?!

To me, just having an old-fashioned flip phone means that I have a way of calling my husband when need be and 911 in an emergency. I can take photos in case I need to document something. I can text – that’s my alternative to tweeting. Otherwise – silence. And I enjoy it.
On a daily basis, I see parents sitting in playgrounds with their smartphones, staring at their screens, while their kids are trying to catch their attention and to figure why that thing is so much more important than they. Or families walking, each glued to their own screen. Friends meeting in restaurants – only to sit at the same table without talking, intent on the next commentary popping up out of the ether. No communication whatsoever though everybody could have each other’s company. Chosen isolation for the sake of virtual worlds instead of the real life that is now and unique and unrepeatable.

Sometimes the world, here at Mt. Rainier, chooses for you that you have to be off the grid – and makes you discover a world.

I am that person whom you can see walking around Waughop Lake without a device in her ears or her eyes on a screen, ready to say hello, to pat your dog (if permitted) and smile at your child. I am the one who looks for the birds singing in the trees or for the fish jumping in the water. I won’t check whether anybody has reposted a meme for me to reshare because that’s “what you do”. I’m not expecting any mind-blowing call about having found a leading publishing house or won the Literature Nobel Prize. I know I am far from number one on the Amazon bestselling lists and don’t have to check for my hourly ranking. I don’t want to know the irritating news about what has just gone awry in the world this second (I will find out soon enough) because either it’s close enough to impact me immediately or so removed that I don’t have an immediate impact on it even if I tried to act asap.

In other words – being off the grid gives me peace of mind. It also makes me enjoy my here and now. Experiencing with all my senses what no device whatsoever will be able to convey to me. There are places, too, where I don’t even have to choose to be off the grid – most of the Cascades e.g. and the greater part of the Olympic Peninsula don’t have cellphone reception. Last New Year’s Eve, in Kalaloch on the Pacific Coast, I observed somebody who desperately tried for the better part of an hour to get some reception on their smart phone. There was no Wi-Fi either. Nor TV. I have rarely felt so utterly calm and relaxed and close to whom and what was around me.

Do I need a smartphone to run a Square? (And do I need such a Square?) In the end, I sold a couple of books at that stall at that fair. I was never asked whether I took cards. I was paid in cash.

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