Technology retreat is what this vacation offered

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Oct. 23, 2013

It’s survival of fittest in technology vacuum

When I was a boy, I was drawn to stories such as “Robinson Crusoe,” “The Swiss Family Robinson” and “Tarzan.” Later, it would be the real-life adventure of Thor Heyerdahl and his oceanic voyage on the homemade Kon-Tiki, and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s exploration of the Antarctic. These are tales of being alone and cut off from the world. I am gripped by stories of adventurers at the mercy of the elements, relying only upon their strength and wits.

Why, then, was I at my wits’ end during our recent fall break spent in Mountain View, Ark., with no Wi-Fi or cell phone reception?

We drove there without knowing we were entering a technological vacuum. What far-flung locale, what Bermuda Triangle of a vacation home doesn’t have an Internet connection? A cabin at the top of a mountain doesn’t.

It appeared from the get-go that we’d driven three hours just so the children could argue with each other in a different state. It turned out to be some sort of withdrawal they were experiencing, though. A sort of cyber detox we were all going through as even the adults every so often pulled phones from our pockets to tap on their unresponsive faces.

It didn’t take long before conversation led to how we might survive if civilization ended while we were in that vacuum. And how me might find out. It became obvious that, unlike the Swiss Family Robinson and Crusoe, once our food ran out, we would perish. There was a brief discussion of that other tale of survival, the Donner Party, and who among us might pair best with s’mores. I slept with one eye open the rest of the trip.

Soon enough, though, we all acclimated and noticed there were trees and birds and a friendly toad. There was the White River below and a beautiful sunset above. The one thing more entertaining than a Kindle Fire was an actual fire. The only thing more awe-inspiring than a large-screen television were the larger-than-life constellations in the inky night sky.

For three days, we were unaware of the world beyond the Ozarks. The only evidence that the government was still shut down was that Blanchard Springs Caverns was closed. We paid no mind as we had ice cream from Woods Pharmacy & Soda Fountain in town and we shopped at the Army-Navy store. We flew down the mountainside on a zip line and listened to bluegrass music around the town square. We read books — actual books.

Like a science-fiction movie, we’d been thrust into the past. Mountain View is only three hours from our house in Memphis, yet it might as well have been a half-century removed.

We tuned in an old knob-and-dial radio for any information on how civilization was faring, but we could only pick up a station playing the hits from decades ago. It was the perfect soundtrack as we sat in front of a fire playing a card game in which the loser, if it came down to it, would meet his fate on a bed of graham crackers.

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