Is It Possible to Unplug Anymore? Even on Vacation?

Ah, vacations. A time to unplug, unwind and get away from our frazzled, workaday, always online world.

Only apparently, we don’t.

According to a survey conducted by Intel Security, most of us still check emails, post funny videos on Facebook and do, well, pretty much everything we do online when we’re at home or work. The survey found that in the oldster category (the 40-50 age group, of which I’m a part), only 37% of us even want to unplug during our vacations. And those of us who do, more than half of us (55%) cheat. We just can’t stay away.

Millennials (generally folks between the ages of 18-34) are, ironically, significantly more likely to take a web-free vacation. Nearly half said that sounded pretty appealing. ‘Course, that means that more than half would presumably never leave home without their laptops and smartphones fully charged.

That’s too bad, survey says. Of the people who successfully went without web access, about two-thirds of them said that their vacation was more enjoyable.

Listen, I get the attraction, even the 21st-century necessity, of the digital world. Most of us spend a good chunk of our lives online, and it’s increasingly hard to escape work and disconnect for a week. It is still possible, but sometimes it means going to one of the increasingly rare places that doesn’t have any service bars.

I found myself in just such a place a few weeks ago, albeit not intentionally. My wife and I drove up to Olympic National Park, and we spent a few days knocking around Washington state’s mountains and rainforests and rocky coastlines. And here was the thing: A couple of our hotels didn’t have Internet service. They didn’t even have TVs.

It was a bit odd, admittedly, to be knee-deep in nature and not be able to tell my Facebook friends, “Hey, look! Nature!” It was strange to come back to the hotel and be unable to automatically flip on the telly. I couldn’t blog. I couldn’t tweet. What, pray tell, is a 21st-century vacationer to do without the internet?

So my wife and I were forced to, you know, talk. We went down to the lobby and played cribbage. We quietly read our books in front of the fireplace. Crazy, right?

Listen, I have no problem with technology. My career, frankly, depends on it. My work life and home life are, like many people’s, unavoidably intertwined (maybe more than some, given that my “work” is focused on entertainment and family). I spend an inordinate amount of time watching movies and television shows and telling people—through reviews, essays, vodcasts and blogs like this—what I think about ’em.

But it’s interesting that, on those vacation days when I wasn’t talking so much about myself, how much more I felt like myself. It was kinda nice to just look at a tree and not be thinking about what I was thinking about said tree. I did not need to pontificate. I did not need to opine. I wasn’t thinking of memes or gifs or anything. I could just … look. I could marvel at a bit of God’s handiwork and let it speak for itself. And speak only to me.

Those times were no less special because I couldn’t share it with my online circle of friends immediately. In a way, perhaps they were more special—a memory that my wife and I could share with the forest, which frankly didn’t care whether we were there or not. No digital footprints for us in that moment: The only footprints we left were our own.

Well, in that moment, anyway. As soon as we were back in civilization, of course, my wife posted a whole bevy of pictures to the world. And I, of course, am writing this blog right now—ironically sharing this moment with all of you. But that’s OK. Memories are meant to be shared. But maybe they don’t always have to be shared immediately, as it sometimes feels the digital world demands of us.

Near the end of 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the titular Walter—after circling the globe in search of the enigmatic photographer Sean O’Connell—finally finds his quarry. Sean is sitting in the heart of Himalayas, his camera trained on a rare snow leopard. It’s a beautiful image. It’d make for a beautiful picture. But Sean takes the camera down and just … watches.

“When are you going to take it?” Walter asks.

“Sometimes I don’t,” Sean says, his eyes watching the leopard. “If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

“Stay in it?”

“Yeah,” Sean says. “Right there. Right here.”

Sometimes, our wonderful digital doodads can take us out of the moment. This summer, I’d encourage you to take some time—a week, a day, an hour—to stay in it. Right there. Right here.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.