Every summer now for almost two decades we’ve hauled our kids up to a family lake house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a cool and welcome escape from our home in the Deep South, and the beauty of the area coupled with its slower pace of life has made for many a relaxing summer memory. There’s just one problem, and depending on how you look at it, it’s a mixed blessing kind of a problem.
There is no internet.
Wi-Fi? Nope. Hot dogs? Yes. Hot spots? Zero. The cellular data on our phones? Well, we hit our limit in the first 48 hours, and after that it’s selectively doled out like WWII bread rations, and only used in case of emergency. And by emergency, I mean, “Can someone please quickly Google images of poison ivy and see who got kicked off The Bachelorette last night?”
Welcome to the summer of our disconnect. Painful? A little. Priceless? Yes. So much yes.
You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone is brutally true when it comes to 24/7 access to instant information, an endless amount of on demand streaming entertainment, and instant social media gratification. When it’s always there, it’s like an extra appendage that you and your kids learn to rely and depend on. And when it’s gone? Picture a fish out of water gasping for, well, water.
The first few days of summer vacation sans internet look like detox in a drug rehab center: zombie children walking around hunched over looking at empty palms, their unstimulated brains trying desperately to rewire blank connections and make new ones. They’ll head straight to the TV, but it’s the very basic of cable where pausing, rewinding, and on demand options are unavailable.
TV with commercials that you can’t fast-forward or watch exactly what you want when you want? That’s so 2005, and so out of their realm of reality you’d think we took them to 1950 on vacation. The “I’m bored!” and “What are we supposed to do now?” and “This just sucks!” complaints come in abundance, as they look around for a crutch, or some replacement for the connection drug they no longer can self-medicate with — something, anything that can fill their thoughts
And then the moment happens. The moment where they remember they can fill their thoughts, just them, and them alone. Not a status update, a Snapchat, an angry bird, or a Twitter feed.
And me? I follow right along, grab a book, lie under a tree, and tell myself it’s 1982 — can of Tab totally optional.
When you’re no longer tethered to a constant flow of stimulation, the search to create your own happens, and watching my kids do that is pretty damn cool. Sitting bored no longer becomes a hindrance, but ignites their imagination to just plain get off their butts and find something to do.
Sure there are board games and card games, whiffle ball competitions and diving contests, but there is also plenty of ordinary nothing, and it’s in the ordinary nothing that the extraordinary happens. That’s when imaginative play happens, and with it all the great stuff that child development experts tell us is how real learning and growth happens. It’s also when my kids learn how to actually enjoy their own company, that solitude isn’t a bad thing, and the day’s random moments, some great and some awful, don’t need to be documented, photographed, or shared. They’re just moments, their own moments. Our moments. Time becomes filled with the world in front of us, the real world, not a virtual one. What a concept.
Inevitably at summer’s end, when we get back home and everyone races to their bedrooms to log in and devour all they have missed out on, something becomes very clear: We really didn’t miss out on much at all. It only take a few minutes of scrolling to realize everything we truly needed to know, we knew about already. All the people we needed to truly be connected with, we were. And all that time that we used to let a screen fill? It had been dutifully and satisfyingly filled.
In the same way it takes a few days to get used to no internet, it takes a few days to get used to having it again. You’d think the kids would get back on and immediately stay connected for days and days, but they don’t. I hear them click on, and then just a few minutes later, I hear them click off, but as school swings into gear and the necessity of connection looms over all of us again, I know this will not be the case. We will begrudgingly head back into a fall and spring of total connectedness — clicking, swiping, tapping, and chatting with pixels instead of people, and people behind pixels, looking down at our 2D lives on a screen instead of the 3D ones of our surroundings.
But all those summer vacation disconnected moments? The ones that were just ours and ours alone? The amazing ones even the most unmotivated and grumpy kid was able to generate all on his own? Even though they weren’t documented and commented about, they are just as important, if not more so. And thankfully, they will stay just ours, and they can never be replaced, or reproduced in the lost ether of the World Wide Web. Amen to that.