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Of Trail Life and Technology


I’m in transition.

A month ago, I moved to Auckland and went from distance hiker to au pair. My solitude has been filled by three little rugrats and a one-year-old puppy. Instead of mountain peaks, I see suburbs. I now have a real bed and my ramen is cooked, so I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

As I’ve begun to settle into this new life, one thing I noticed was a spike in my use of technology. Perhaps I’m compensating for the absence of WiFi on the trail, but I can’t be sure. Regardless, it feels a bit out of control. One second I’m reading about Detroit Lions draft picks then somehow I end up scrolling through Star Wars memes (prequel memes are hot right now). Curious to know the difference between websites that end in .co and .com? I Googled that on Monday.

Curiosity isn’t a bad thing, but if my time is the most precious thing I have, I should be selective and intentional about how I spend it.

Two weeks ago I downloaded Moment, an app that tracks your phone usage. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • I use my phone an average of over 5 hours per day. I totaled over 37 hours last week, which is roughly 36% of my waking life.

  • I picked up my phone (activated the screen) 401 times last week, or 57 pickups per day. If you exclude sleep, that averages out to checking my phone every 17 minutes.

  • According to Moment, I will spend 14.3 years on my phone during my entire life.

I’m not going to throw away my phone, but it’s clear that self-restraint alone is insufficient. In light of this, a question has been marinating: how can I moderate technology so that I’m “present” and focused on the current moment when not on the trail?

Yesterday, I was listening to Econtalk, a podcast by Russ Roberts of the Library of Economics and Liberty. His guest was talking about the benefits of the pre-Internet era—when learning required depth and curiosity could not be instantly gratified. Off hand, Russ said, “You know my view on this: I keep the Jewish Sabbath, so I’m guaranteed a 25-hour window every week without electronic devices.”

I’m not interested in taking up the Torah, but this sparked an idea: a technology sabbath. Designate one day per week to unplug. No phone, no computer, no TV.

I don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to make small changes. For the next three months, I’m going to try spending my Saturdays unplugged.

One of the things I enjoy about trail life is the presentness that it affords me. Without Facebook statuses and political news, I’m left to focus on my immediate surroundings and the things that actually fill my life. I can’t have trail life seven days a week, but I can incorporate this one positive aspect in moderation. And ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

Hopefully this small change in lifestyle brings a bit of trail life to the suburbs.