“You could hit scan on your radio, and it would go around and around for hours. Occasionally, you might lock into a Mexican station filled with static and popping sounds,” he wrote. “Even when cellphones were becoming popular, West Texas was still a no-signal land. All you had was the sound of the tires and the voices in your head.”
O’Rourke paints an image of that stretch of highway that is solitary and lonely.
But to me, that doesn’t sound all that bad.
Now, I’m as guilty as the rest of us, with our cellphones always within reach, anticipating that next message and feeling the phantom vibrations of an incoming call or message, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I don’t like living that way.
Or at least not anymore.
I grew up on the digital frontier, a time when the Internet, personal computers and cellphones were really just taking off as tools available to anyone. Setting up my first email account was an exciting prospect, as were chat rooms, text messages and (believe it or not) color cellphone screens.
That novelty, though, is long since degraded into an almost unwelcome burden. The constant tweets and chirps from so many electronic devices constantly assuring me, “No siree, you’re definitely not alone.”
You know that commercial for the pickup loaded with camping gear and four guys, who are traversing remote locales, vainly asking, “Anything yet?”
The commercial ends when one of the men says “finally” in an exasperated voice and the camera cuts to the cellphone, which shows “No signal.”
I love that commercial. It directly contrasts with another commercial that infuriates me when it flashes across the screen.
It’s for phone service and a group of guys are out in the woods, obviously camping and sitting around a fire. And the whole group’s attention is intently focused on a cellphone screen, watching the game in the great outdoors. Coverage everywhere is the idea.
Gross is just about all I can say to that.
When I’m outdoors, camping or hiking or kayaking, I’m not out there to talk on the phone or keep in touch with the world zipping around me. I’m actively trying to shut that down, to break that addiction to constant digital input.
It wears on your brain, the more you let yourself be consumed by the info stream. I’ve noticed in the past several years, as I’ve gotten busier with work, that my attention span has shriveled. It’s an effort to just sit and be quiet. It’s a lot of effort.
In 2007, when I was working in Yellowstone National Park, I had to adjust to life without TV, cell reception and, for the most part, Internet.
It was awesome. I remember a trip into Bozeman, Mont., when we went to see a movie, a trip more than two hours long. For the first time that I could remember, I was absolutely thrilled to be going to the movies. It wasn’t something to just pass the time, it was an effort.
It made the movie so much more enjoyable.
It was the same with phone calls there. Without a cellphone, if I wanted to make a call, it was done on a payphone with a calling card. I was unreachable unless I wanted to reach out. And it was deliciously liberating.
Technology has made so many aspects of life so much more convenient. When you break down, there are no miles to cross between you and a phone. When you’re lost, punch it into the navigator on the phone and in minutes, you’ll be back on track. When you’re in a meeting, shoot off a text to set something up for later.
But we’ve lost something with all that, it feels like, even to a youngun’ like me.
You lose the novelty of a movie on the big screen. You lose the pleasure that comes from a long phone conversation with a loved one or old friend.
Stop checking for the next thing and just enjoy the thing that’s in front of you.
That goes for hitting the road, too.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a trip as a journey, and commute as an exchange. A vacation, road trip or something along those lines shouldn’t be confined to trading one place for another.
There are dozens of other places between here and there that you otherwise wouldn’t notice over the droll voice of the GPS telling you the next turn.
Turn it off, and you just might find you like it.
Tim Monzingo is a staff writer for the Tyler Courier-Times--Telegraph. He can be reached at 903-596-6265 or email@example.com.