Thursday, July 30, 2009


More than twenty-five years ago, I should have realized that the world had changed. When I was a very young lawyer, I overheard a partner at the firm berating another young (but slightly older than me) lawyer because he hadn’t returned a telephone message from that morning until late afternoon.

The lawyer returning the call was on vacation, camping with his family at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. It didn’t matter that this was well before everybody had a cell phone, that it was during vacation, or that most campsites don’t have telephone service. The partner expected him to be available and he wasn’t, so he was in trouble.

Twenty-five years ago it was unusual for people to have to be available every minute of every hour of every day. Now it’s par for the course. I avoided carrying a cell phone for many years. My informal motto was something like “It may be an emergency to you, but it isn’t necessarily an emergency to me.”

Finally my staff bought me a cell phone because they were tired of not being able to find me when they thought they needed to. The funny thing is that I can’t remember any single occasion where somebody didn’t successfully solve whatever the emergency was, whether or not I was available. But now that people can reach me, I have to be involved even if I don’t add anything to the process.

For a number of years I’ve managed to escape for a week each year by scheduling a wilderness canoe trip. Believe it or not, there are still places in this country where you don’t have cell phone reception (including my house, but that’s another story). I had to plan months in advance. Warn everybody that short of chartering a helicopter to make a search that I couldn’t be found. I was regarded as hopelessly eccentric.

But it worked. The picture of me is from a trip down the San Juan River in Utah. I had eight glorious days without a cell phone or computer; without texting or email; without deadlines or any decision to make except whether a rapid was safe to run.

This picture is my friend PK in Four Foot Rapids. A trip like that recharged me for months.
For the past two years we haven’t been able to make schedules work for a wilderness trip. I’ve been connected to the world almost all that time, usually working in front of the computer with my cell phone and office phone next to me. Often with half a dozen people trying to ask me questions at the same time. Most days I can’t even respond to all the emails, telephone calls and texts I receive. At home, the computer will be on, often with the television as well, and of course I have my cell phone. I imagine most of your lives are just the same.

Last month I had a day when I was too injured to make it into work, but to begin with that hardly slowed me down at all. I still had my laptop and my cell phone and could continue to work almost as if I were in the office. Then at mid day a thunderstorm started up. I lost my cable connection and the internet. The cell phone couldn’t get a connection. The lights went off. I was injured enough so I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t walk anywhere without crutches.

In a couple of hours the cable and electricity would come back, but for those hours I sat on the couch and looked out the window. I could see the tomatoes were beginning to ripen. After awhile I picked up a book and read without interruption.

I realized I need to find some time to disconnect from the world I am caught up in too much.

No comments:

Post a Comment