Recently I went on a four-day sailing trip along the coast of Connecticut and Rhode Island. We chartered a 46’ boat from Mystic, Connecticut and sailed to Block Island, Newport, and back to Point Judith before returning the boat on the end of the fourth day. We left our slip with no preset course. All we packed was four days of clothing that none of us really ended up changing into – good thing the ocean breeze was strong.
I let my parents and girlfriend know that they probably wouldn’t hear from me much while I was away, but not to worry: none of us really knew how to sail other than one guy, but how hard could it be? My Uncover coworkers covered for me by handling emails and any new orders that came in. Everything was set up for me to disconnect from the Internet for a few days. My days would be filled with sailing and conversation rather than emails, instant messages and text messages.
The first day went as planned. There were seven of us on the boat and I only knew two of the people before we set off. I checked into foursquare at the Mystic Seaport Marina before we left and from there on out my intention was to only use my iPhone to snap photographs, take videos and to check in to places we visited. We sailed to Block Island that day – saw a 50+ pod of dolphins – and I was successfully able to restrain myself from pulling out my iPhone for anything else. In fact, I didn’t find that first day difficult at all.
The following day would become much more difficult. We set out to Newport, RI from Block Island. It was raining lightly when we pulled off our mooring for the six-hour sail. We were getting along wonderfully, chatting about lots of topics, and having a relaxing time. We’d lie out on the front of the boat when the sun peeked out from the clouds, but mainly we’d gather around the back of the boat where we could all sit comfortably together. This was my first time sailing and something I didn’t know beforehand was that being below deck while moving is very conducive to seasickness and definitely not advised, so we were almost always above deck.
As the second day progressed, there began to be some lulls in conversation, as there always are when there’s extended conversation, and instead of staring out into the ocean and having meditative thoughts, people started reaching in their pockets for their phones. I’m not sure who made the first move, but it seemed to progress like dominos as soon as it was silently okayed by someone. What was the rest of the world up to? Is there any breaking news? What’s on my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds? Who should I text? Who should I send photographs to?
The disconnect we were all looking for as seven techies (entrepreneurs, developers and designers) tumbled to an end about twenty-four hours after setting sail. We felt the pull of the Internet as if it was a drug. It was too strong to resist, and once you give in to it, you’re done.
For the remainder of the trip, whenever there was a break in conversation, we’d all reach for our phones and check in on things. The only time you could get a respite from your phone was when it was charging in the hold of the ship. The rest of the time your phone would be in your pocket, buzzing to let you know there was something new to distract you. By the way, phone signal strength is far stronger out in the open ocean than in the heart of New York City.
That’s not to say that I don’t feel very relaxed after four days of sailing around and not having done any real work, but I’m disappointed that I didn’t do a better job of shutting the rest of the world out. I know writers have experimented with turning off all technology for weeks, months, and even a year at a time, but I don’t think the experience of turning it off for an extended period of time will ever be feasible again, and that worries me. You’d have thought that being on a boat would be the ideal place to find out, but the draw proved to be too great. Are we addicted to technology and is there anything we can or should do about it?
One obvious possibility: Head to a remote mountain where there are no signals and stay there for a long time.
But you know, we’re social beings. Maybe we don’t need to be cross-checking the social media all the time, and maybe we should do our best to take vacations from that, but we still do need to communicate with the people who matter to us.