If you’ve been to a shopping center or a mall lately you’ve probably noticed how many people these days are totally plugged into their phones or other electronic gadgets. It is even worse today now that the Pokemon Go craze has hit the world like a tidal wave. I was in the big city of Augusta, Maine recently, which isn’t that big, and was reminded of how many people are constantly plugged into their toys. Kids, young adults, and increasingly even the Baby Boomers are getting attached to their phones.
Wicked “Smaht” Phone
Don’t get me wrong, I love my smart phone too or “wicked smaht phone” as we say here in Maine. It has my calendar, social media, weather, Google, and all the awesome things that make this day and age so damned busy. Over the last year I’ve found myself with my face in its screen more and more. Facebook, Messenger (that insidious Facebook messaging app,) and Snapchat. What I found was that my ability to concentrate was going to hell because of all the instant gratification I was giving myself. I’d be working on something, Messenger would ding, and I’d immediately pick it up to see who was saying what. We have a group of people that all hang out together and when we can’t get together we go back and forth on Messenger.
Over the last couple of weeks I haven’t looked at Messenger or Facebook at all. I uninstalled Snapchat. Oddly enough I don’t feel as driven up as I used to. Once I turned off the dinging sound and stopped other notifications coming in it was like someone gave me an extra hour or two every day for other things – like writing this blog post. Not to mention my stress level dropped to what I would consider “normal” levels with our current crazy lives.
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Have I given up using my cell phone for everything? Not when it comes to education or listening to music. I like the ability to read anywhere with the Kindle app. I love listening to podcasts on my ride to and from work, so there’s an hour a day of otherwise idle time that I’m learning something. Awesome! I also have a pretty good library of music I listen to – everything from Classical to Rap. (But I still mostly listen to Pink Floyd.)
The difference is that I’m back in charge of my phone instead of it being in charge of me. With no dings or beeps coming from it every five minutes or less I no longer have the Pavlovian reflex to drop whatever I’m doing and see who’s doing what. Now, you’re only as connected as you allow yourself to be, of course. The choice is totally up to you.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” –Henry David Thoreau
As you can see disconnecting from civilization is hardly a new concept. Thoreau talked about it back in the 1800’s and I’d be willing to bet many people in a changing society often looked to the wilderness with longing in their hearts with the desire to slip the constraints of civilization.
I’ve tried to have conversations with folks when their text alert was going off constantly, their email was dinging, and Facebook was chirping telling them there’s a vital comment on their latest humorous post that needs liking. To say it’s frustrating is an understatement and I’m sure you’ve all had that same experience.
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I usually go out in the woods at least once a week and that’s a perfect time for me to unplug. It’s nice to put the phone down and just listen to the wind blowing through the trees. My young kids – four and seven – like to come out with me and they climb trees, play with sticks, dig around in the dirt, ask if they can play with the fire and generally do what kids are supposed to do in nature. It’s awesome.
If you haven’t done it lately give it a try. Head out to the woods, or park, or whatever you have available to you, turn your phone off, or better yet leave it at home, and connect with a family member or friend, or just sit there and listen to the wind blow or the rain fall. It’s a great experience and I think it’s something we all need from time to time.
People love their earbuds. And truth be told if you want to listen to loud music I’d just as soon you put in your earbuds and listen to it that way; however, when you do you take away your ability to hear what’s going on around you effectively cutting your situational awareness down to nothing. If you listen to loud music and read Facebook (or whatever social media you’re into) at the same time you’ve effectively turned into a zombie shambling down the side of the road without the ability to see or hear. Have you ever seen people walking down the side of the road with their backs to traffic and plugged in so that they can’t hear that trailer-truck sneaking up behind them?
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The other day I listened to a podcast about visual intelligence where Amy Herman discussed this very topic. (Listen to the podcast here.) She told a story about how she was waiting to get on the subway and a man who had obvious mental problems was walking up and down the platform talking to himself. Then he took out a knife and cut himself before going back to having his one way conversation. Meanwhile people stood around plugged into their phones not realizing the potential danger literally right next to them. When the train pulled up they all got on the same car together oblivious of the threat boarding with them. She walked down to the other end of the train and avoided what might have been a bad situation.
If you do feel the need to plug in to your phone, instead of using the two earbuds and blasting at full power I would suggest using a Bluetooth ear piece instead. These little guys fit in your ear leaving one ear free to hear what’s going on around you. They don’t have the cable either so you can leave it holstered on your hip, or stored in your purse or backpack, so that if danger does appear suddenly you have both hands free to react without fear of dropping your phone or having your hands tied up. Listen at a reasonable volume and you’ll still be aware of what’s going on around you (although still somewhat diminished) and you’ll be able to hear and assess danger in your environment. Cheap bluetooth earbuds start at around $25 and are well worth the investment.
The Dark Side
Another facet of using a Smartphone is that you no longer have any privacy. Guess what? When you use Facebook and the GPS to post a selfie of you drinking a beer at the local watering hole some people see it don’t think it’s anywhere near as cool as you do. I’ve read stories where people posted pictures or videos of themselves driving drunk and got busted because their friends reported it. Now that’s just plain stupid, both the drunk driving and the posting of it.
Other than stripping away your own privacy the government also has the ability to track every movement you make. I’m not saying they do… but I’m not saying they don’t either. I don’t want to launch into a long paranoid discourse of how “Big Brother” is reading every text you send, checking out the movies you’re watching, or listening to your phone conversations, but they certainly could if they wanted to.
Ever hear of someone getting lost in the woods and they find them by pinging their cell phone. It ain’t that hard to do folks. Even if your phone is turned off it will still return a signal, so don’t think by turning off your phone you’re slipping off the grid. The ability to spy on smartphone communications is too shiny a toy for many folks in law enforcement to resist. Now someone will say, “Aww, Jarhead, you’re just being paranoid, dude! People can’t do that sci-fi stuff!”
Ever heard of Stingray? That’s the code name for a secret technology used by police to trick your cell phone into thinking it’s connecting to a legitimate cell tower, when in fact it’s really a device being used by the police. Check out this story of how a guy named Rigmaiden discovered it and exposed it (click here).
What Happens After TEOTWAWKI?
All this talk of unplugging from the matrix is great, but what happens when TSHTF? As you know it wouldn’t take much to turn that communications device into a piece of plastic and dead electronic chips.
Increasingly, we are using our smart phones for more than just simple communications. We bank with them, shop with them, learn on them, get entertainment from them, rely on them for navigation, get our news from them, keep our schedules on them, and so on. I’ve come to rely on my phone for many things, but I always try to keep paper backups or local copies of the important stuff.
Now imagine if all of a sudden there were no more electronics. Let’s say North Korea hit us with a few nuclear airbursts and destroyed 80% of our electronic grid with a well timed EMP burst. First of all, our entire culture is now run with computers. Nearly every facet of your day to day life relies on a computer chip of some kind. Everything from turning on your stove to starting your car requires a computer of some sort today. All of a sudden our whole society is brought to its knees with a few well timed nukes.
If you’ve seen the movie “American Blackout” or read the book “Lights Out” by Ted Koppel, you can get a good idea of what we could expect with a grid down scenario. The scary thing is that I’m not sure they went deep enough into what might actually happen. Second of all, a good percentage of our population has come to rely heavily on these devices and will now have to turn elsewhere for their information, communication, and entertainment. Initially we’ll all have to find ways to cope without our electronic nanny attached to our belts.
How to Prepare
Other than doing what we’re doing, which is prepping for an event like this, there’s not much we can do about the first scenario. Most scenarios we prepare for all have to do with the grid going down. Hunker down, protect yourself and your family, and ride it out is about the best we can do.
The second scenario – the one where everybody is going through phone withdrawal and trying to figure out how to operate in a society without instant communication and gratification -will be a different kind of hardship. Luckily we can prepare for that one a little better simply by unplugging once in awhile. I like to play guitar, draw, read books, and play with my kids as well as practice my wilderness skills. It would suck without the electronics, but I’d get used to it fast enough. After all, I lived through the 80’s when there were no cellular gadgets or personal computers.
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Now, it’s true I’m painting this picture with a broad brush and a good many people out there aren’t dependent on a cell phone. But in the developed countries it’s unusual for people *not* to have a smartphone these days.
Again, I’m not bashing people who own a phone or tablet, but I am suggesting you take a little time now and then to explore nature the way it was meant to be experienced. Let your kids go out and get dirty. Take them into the woods and let them see spiders, and trees, and all that nature has to offer. My two kids love being outside. I even take them out in the winter on showshoes. If you’ve never seen a four year old on shoeshoes I invite you into the forest with us next year when we have three feet of snow on the ground again. It’s awesome to see and my seven year old is like an old pro on them. So the question is are you prepared to unplug? Try it for a day and see how it feels.
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