I do fishing trips in northern Maine where I skip off the grid for several days. It’s something I try to do at least once a year. While I don’t like to be out of contact with my family, or miss anything special on the continuous news ticker that the Internet provides, I find this disconnection is a very good thing, an exercise in mindfulness and living in the moment, important medicine for our hectic, Internet-connected lives, especially with the increase in screen time caused by the pandemic. Who wouldn’t want replacement media that might include the sound of loons, the smell of a campfire, or a melody of a mandolin drifting through the campsite?

On the drive up I listen to great music—I make a couple of playlists, both concerts off my database, and on Spotify for more random selections. As we drive into the woods in a different vehicle, we revert to CDs to play music, and I watch the signal strength on my phone drop from a few bars to “no signal”.  On my early trips, this would be a hard disconnect, with no communication for the week.  As time went by and we all got older, we felt a modicum of communication was necessary, especially if we were off pavement 100 miles and the car broke down, so I picked up a Garmin InReach unit, which allows me to text off a satellite.  With a small solar panel to keep your smart phone and the InReach unit powered up, this technology is good insurance, and we started using it. 

One September, as I drove back from a Fall fishing trip, I heard an interview with Grist.org blogger David Roberts about a pre-pandemic article he wrote for Outside Magazine called “Reboot or Die Trying” (www.outsideonline.com/1926796/reboot-or-die-trying).   Roberts described putting in 12 hours or more of screen time a day, writing, tweeting, researching and checking and responding to email. He said: “My mind was perpetually in the state that researcher and technology writer Linda Stone termed continuous partial attention. I was never completely where I was, never entirely doing what I was doing.”

Roberts decided to break away from the screens for a whole year, and he found a liberation that many of us from pre-Internet times don’t remember today. After a year, he dove back into the screens, but made a few rules that helped provide balance, like taking 15-minutes off the screens every two-hours, or using the app Freedom (http://macfreedom.com) that blocks the Internet on your devices to allow for some real concentration.

Of course, my few days on Churchill Lake or the West Branch of the Penobscot, disconnected from the Internet, were but a token gesture compared to Robert’s experience. On our trip that Fall we focused on living in camp, during almost continuous rain. I really did not miss being connected—the camp chores, cooking, a good book, my mandolin, and fishing kept us busy. Sitting around a campfire with friends after a gourmet camp dinner—in person social networking—beats reading my Twitter feed or hearing that blasted email chime any day.

I’m not ready for a year offline right now. I have to use the Internet for a number of reasons, my work being the highest priority, but we can all take a little break from the screens and practice some focus on whatever we might be doing even in this media soaked, online-intensive culture. And listening to music qualifies in my book as taking a break—sitting and listening to John  Adam’s Dr. Atomic or Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick in their entirety can be a great way to focus, and relax. 

One warning, before entering the wilds, always make sure the music from your last hour in the car is carefully chosen, as these tunes could be the soundtrack in your head for your entire trip. You don’t want to be humming Wagon Wheel for five days, do you?

July Fourth Weekend Shows

Some great nearby shows coming on July 3-4.  If you have not seen the great Yonder Mountain String Band live, now’s your chance.  They will be at B-Chord on July 3 and July 4. My friend Nick Piccininni is their mandolinist and multi-instrumentalist, and he has been a fine addition to the group, which is one of the leading Jamgrass acts in the country today.  They play an amazing set and are well worth the short drive over to Round Hill.  Go to the B Chord website for ticket info, and I’ll see you there. 

Steve Chase is in Unison playing mandolin on his back porch.

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