With careers that demand that emails are attended to quickly and digital addictions that require us to check multiple social media platforms numerous times a day, a digital detox is a necessary respite from the information overload that has overtaken our lives. I am no luddite and overall I believe that technology has enriched our lives. I can get lost on Instagram scanning incredible wildlife photos that take my breath away. I even started a blog that I have admittedly ignored my blog of late, because I want to share Southern Africa with anyone who stumbles upon my posts. But lately, social media platforms feel less like a place to connect with far flung friends and more like a divisive social commons where stress inducing breaking news stories are interspersed with targeted advertisements. This constant bombardment of unnecessary information in no way enriches my life, but going off the grid is harder than it sounds. All of my attempts at self-imposed 24-hour digital detoxes have failed. I am lured back online by the fear of missing something important. Nevermind that if were truly important, the person would utilize the original intended function of those devices that are always within arm’s reach, and phone.
Perhaps that is why I increasingly seek out holidays to remote corners of the world where cell phone towers and WiFi have yet to reach. There I can enjoy the benefits of going off the grid. I had planned an eight day trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe with my Love fully knowing that we would inaccessible for nearly the entire vacation; never imagining that the real reason why we carry devices with us – so that we can be reachable at all times – would affect me.
Free from work, television, and distracting information that comes through our devices, I could focus on what was truly important, spending quality time with my Love. For seven days we did just that. We ticked off birds, laughed that the tall, thick grasses made it nearly impossible to see the animals, conversed over starlit dinners, communed with nature, and fell asleep under a canopy of mosquito netting. The sole intrusion from the outside world was the score from the Stormers rugby game that the camp host looked up on the office computer at Callum’s behest. While Matetsi (the last stop on our itinerary) had WiFi, we elected to maintain the moratorium on social media and connecting to the wider world. The sole exception was allotted to me so that I could go online to wish my Mom a Happy Birthday. As I typed a Birthday email to my Mom, a multitude of alerts flashed across the top of my screen.
Something had happened to my Mom.
I panicked and immediately searched for messages from my Dad to find out why people were praying for my family.
My Mom had a stroke. My Mom had a stroke one week earlier – the day I left on holiday.
When an emergency hits the reason to be constantly connected and reachable becomes very real. Within seconds I was able to make a WiFi call to my Dad and get all the details – all at no cost and with complete ease. My family elected not to track me down. To be fair, I had not forwarded my itinerary to anyone and had only told my Mom to contact our travel agent if there was an emergency – never imagining that she would be the emergency.
While I feel guilty about not calling my Mom the night before we left for our holiday and for chiding her during our last conversation because she was complaining about something I thought was trivial but was of clear importance to her. I don’t feel guilty about going off the grid and not being contactable. Perhaps I can say this because the worst did not happen and because I know that given the distance, there was no way I would not have made it for the initial critical days. I did make the 33 hour trek back to Omaha, Nebraska but nearly two weeks after her stroke.
In unplugging from the barrage of Facebook posts and the distressing 24 hour news cycle, I missed out. I missed out on something truly important that affected one of the most important people in my life. I wasn’t there. While this might make some people think twice about going off the grid, for me it means I will distribute my itinerary far and wide so that when an emergency hits, my family will have some way of contacting me. Going off the grid, is paramount to my health because it forces me to present and I look forward to planning my next escape.