Anyone who has hiked with me knows I’m all about slowness. My motto is ‘start slow, then tail off.’
I’m only half-joking when I say it. One reason I hike slowly should be evident. I’m not called Fat Man of the Mountains for nothing — I can only move so fast.
The other reason it takes me longer than others to finish a hike is that I’m in no hurry. I love hiking. When I’m in the woods, all I’m really thinking about is being in the woods — the trail ahead, the weather above and, once I reach the top, the views beneath me. The past or future doesn’t exist when I’m on the trail. All there is is now. Why would I want that feeling to end?
My brain seems to work differently — better, I hope — when I return from a hike. The relentless, 24/7 clank and clatter of the ‘real world’ is easier to ignore, and I think more clearly. It’s like turning a radio dial until all the static disappears from the speakers — hiking helps me stay tuned in to my own thoughts.
Part of that can be attributed to being in the woods. I’m learning, however, that being separated from technology is having its own effect. There’s no updating my Facebook status in the forest, and I can’t adjust my fantasy football roster. My cell phone doesn’t work. The blogs I follow go unread. My work e-mail goes unchecked.
And somehow, the world goes on.
The boundlessness of the Internet always runs into the hard fact of our animal nature, our physical limits, the dimensions of our cognitive present, the overheated capacity of our minds. “My friend has just had his PC wired for broadband,” writes the poet Don Paterson. “I meet him in the café; he looks terrible—his face puffy and pale, his eyes bloodshot. . . . He tells me he is now detained, night and day, in downloading every album he ever owned, lost, desired, or was casually intrigued by; he has now stopped even listening to them, and spends his time sleeplessly monitoring a progress bar. . . . He says it’s like all my birthdays have come at once, by which I can see he means, precisely, that he feels he is going to die.”
The ultimate form of progress, however, is learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace, emailing at this frantic rate, is pleasing very few of us. It is encroaching on parts of our lives that should be separate or sacred, altering our minds and our ability to know our world, encouraging a further distancing from our bodies and our natures and our communities. We can change this; we have to change it. Of course email is good for many things; that has never been in dispute. But we need to learn to use it far more sparingly, with far less dependency, if we are to gain control of our lives.
I couldn’t agree more. Then again, I love the way technology gives you instant access to everything. I love my new Blackberry. Facebook has reconnected me on a casual basis to friends I haven’t seen in years and has kept me in touch with close friends who have moved to other parts of the country. Twitter, for all the jokes about its inanity, is a great way to share information quickly and concisely with a targeted group of people. I can read newspapers from across the nation and across the world every morning. I can watch Rocky and Bullwinkle for free on hulu.com. And this site is just damn funny.
But, as Freeman notes:
This is not a sustainable way to live. This lifestyle of being constantly on causes emotional and physical burnout, workplace meltdowns, and unhappiness. How many of our most joyful memories have been created in front of a screen?
Freeman calls for a movement toward “slow communication,” a “push back against the machines and the forces that encourage us to remain connected to them.” While I’m not ready to go all Sarah Connor on my laptop, he does have a point. Of course, he was making that point in a piece I found on the Internet.
For now, I’ll continue to keep a foot in both worlds, as they both have something to offer:
Technology gives me around-the-clock access to other people’s thoughts. Hiking gives me access to my own.