Quiet reflections on unplugging from society

31 May 2017

It seems as though I needed time off work more than I realised. I spent almost all of last week in a deserted beach cabin in a (fairly) remote corner of the world, without a dot of cellular connectivity. Our urban lives are so centred around technology that most of us are incapable of consciously disconnecting every now and then. My week-long getaway, though, left me no choice and, after the fact, I think it was exactly what I needed.

A private beach spells bliss. Agfa Scala 200.

With me was my family, so it was a doubly exciting period of vacation, however brief. Most of the week was spent idly, which is about as far as a day can get from our work lives. We played cards, drank a little too much lemonade and sat on rocks to get sprayed by the tide.

A new moon spells a rising tide

I like crabs because they are the second least weird sea creatures. (The other being the dolphin/whale family.) We had a private beach near our cabin, with a cook and a housekeeper to tend to things while we were off enjoying in the sun. Although I expected the place to be hot, sticky and humid, it was actually quite pleasant.

Early morning, apparently, is crab time. You could count at least a hundred tiny crabs on the shore and about ten to fifteen big ones without fail. By eight o'clock they were gone, perhaps buried deep beneath the sand. The midnight tide would clean the shore and brush it flat everyday, waiting for our footsteps to be laid in the sand.

There were rocks near the shoal where you could sit and watch the waves and simply slide down from if you wanted to get wet. This would have been where I spent every waking minute had the sun not been so unforgiving.

A cabin by the beach, up on the rocks. Fuji Superia 200.

One of the nights was a new moon and the tides rose considerably. A good fifty feet more of the sand bank had been submerged that night than usual. Gone were our sand art from past days and our footsteps. There was a small pond now on the other side of the beach where the tide probably could not recede from entirely.

What I found interesting—indeed what I always find interesting—is looking at rocks and wondering how it was when they were once submerged, a part of the seabed, a product of tectonic plate movements that left them on land, open to human admiration (and, sometimes, use). I stand by the rocks and wonder what secrets lie beneath, what undiscovered fossil holds the answers to our many questions, what new information lies here, untouched, because nobody has bothered to explore the region?

On second thought, perhaps it is good nobody has explored it. That is why the place is safe and sound.

The first day I wonder what is happening in civilisation. What would I have heard or seen had I been connected. But the soothing whispers of the evening tide draw my attention away from there, straight to the present. By day two I find myself rooted in the present effortlessly. It is blissful, I do not even think of the network I am missing. My phone says there is no service and I smile and put it back into my pocket as I lie down on a rock, my Kindle in one hand, and begin to read.

A hike up the mountains

We decided to spend half-a-day away from the shore and hike up a nearby mountain to get a bird's eye view of the sea. Having recently recovered (somewhat) from gout, I find it hard to climb, but I do so anyway, knowing it is going to be worth it.

A hike up the mountain overlooking the sea. Fuji Superia 200.

There is a local tribe here that uses parts of these hills for farming during the monsoons. Stone pillars, walls, and terraced arrangements are left over here that are reminiscent of stone age relics. A walk through them, with the mountains on one side and the sea on the other, gives us a sense of place.

We, as humans, are part of this world. We do not own it, we do not have the right to exploit it, but we can make full use of it as harmoniously as we can; we need to protect ourselves, survive, and do our best not to harm other species living with us. These are thoughts that strike us as we trek, not so much as words as shards of thoughts. It just appears, and we realise our place on this pale blue dot.

Coming back down to earth, we reach the peak, a semi-flat, bushy area overlooking the sea, a fishing village and long stretches of beach only fishermen use. It is a beautiful sight.

To argue that we must give up our urban lives to live in a forest is absurd. All we have to do is ensure that our way of living does not damage the envi­ron­ment.

Also on the peak is a lone tree, curious enough because it seems to have been placed there. For one, there are no such trees around, and, two, there is a stony parapet wall encircling the tree. We later found out that early British explorers planted the tree there as a marker of sorts.

On the way back down we encounter local tribal men. Their contact with the outside world is not absent but not overwhelming either. They wait courteously while we pass. As city-dwellers, we step carefully through the loft ground; they walk with a nimbleness that can only come from knowing the terrain inside-out. They pause briefly to express their gratitude to us for keeping the environment safe; others destroy it, they tell us.

This made me happy but it then also dawned on me that these natives are more human than us in that they are more in contact with our earth than we are. We live on it, they live among it. I do not know if one is bad and the other is good, and to argue that we must give up our urban lives to live in a forest is absurd. These are two ways of living, neither bad. All we have to do is ensure that our way of living does not damage the environment.

Dusk by the sea. Fuji Superia 200.

More than halfway through my vacation, I have stopped thinking of how I have not electronically connected to the world for days now. Good, I remember saying to myself at one point towards the last few days. I would do this all over again if I had to. In hindsight, though, perhaps not permanently, but a week every now and then is a wonderful idea.

Reconnect cautiously

The refreshing taste of unplugging left me in an interesting place. I could easily choose to remain that way, but history has taught us that opposing something new (rather than understanding and choosing to let it into our lives in a restricted manner) rarely leaves us victorious. The other option, of course, was to use this excellent opportunity to reconnect but only when I absolutely have to.

The human mind is an interesting thing. Within two days I had almost completely reconnected. It was clear to me that, regardless of whether I needed to or not, I had found opportunities to connect and had taken them. Perhaps it was part of everyday life and/or work, but it was not that I gained nothing from my experiences.

I prefer not to start lecturing on the joys of missing out
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but what I have realised is that, given an opportunity, my first instinct now is no longer to connect, rather to go analogue. It seems like an excellent thing to me that unplugging for just a week can bring us closer to our analogue world, not only during the week but also after it.

Seaside showers. Fuji Superia 200.

But this is not the only effect my getaway has had. It has also given me a perspective on resting. I have long been of the opinion that people who claim to work all day and never rest are idiots. This has been strengthened considerably. Relaxing and rejuvenating oneself is simply clever. And if work is all that important to us then relating to enable better work is a no-brainer.

The takeaway here is simple. It is not that one needs a weeklong vacation every now and then in a remote corner of the world with a cottage on some rocks, a private beach and a mountain to climb. And this is, after everything is said and done, what rule inspired me. Every benefit this travel afforded me was something I could have gained without ever traveling: yes, there was the lovely sea, the beautiful forest, the adventurous climb, the crabs, the tides and the white noise from the waves hitting the shore, all of which require us to travel; but the other side of it, the disconnect, the relaxation, the idea of connecting with nature, of introspection, thinking, and living in the moment, all of these can be had right in our own homes, in the centre of the most bustling city on earth.

It reminds me of The Alchemist
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in some capacity: sometimes, we have to look no further than our your backyards; but it pays to dream and travel the world anyway.

  1. I have done that already as part of a year-long experiment.

  2. I strongly recommend that you read Paulo Coelho's 'The Alchemist', which, for all the right reasons (and its life lessons) is an international bestseller.