Technological Dependence: Isolation at Polyface

Here is the view on the way to Polyface.

Two weeks ago I visited Polyface farm in rural Virginia. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there, but experienced one emotion I did not expect to feel: Isolation.

The farm had no cell service. It has been years since I have been “off the grid”. Even though I did not visit the farm by myself, I still felt isolated. Simply knowing I could not reach someone if I needed to left me feeling vulnerable. Being disconnected from the grip of phone calls, texting and the Internet was eery, almost surreal.

Strange isn’t it? Strange, how I felt isolated just being in nature, even though I was with other people. We, as people, existed for thousands of years without cell phones and/or the Internet and now we feel more at home online than we do being in nature. We are more comfortable carrying on conversations via social networking sites or texting instead of carrying on conversations in person.

I write regularly about traditional, wholesome foods, but what about wholesome ways of life? What good is it if we eat healthy, but are not emotionally, physically, socially, or spiritually healthy as well? How healthy is it for us to always share what we are experiencing instantaneously with others? Are we truly so socially (e.g. in person) deprived that we need instant and continuous validation? What about being “off the grid”?

Many of the social networking sites foster comparison amongst people. We know what is going on in, sometimes hundreds, of people’s lives. Many of us are too busy “liking” and “pinning” other’s inspirations that we do not find, develop, and create our own inspirations. We have forgotten how to simply “be”.

Welcome to Polyface! This is the picture I so eagerly wanted to send to a friend when we first arrived at Polyface.

After I got over my initial surprise over not having cell service (and not being able to send pictures of Polyface to a friend instantaneously), I was able to explore the farm and savor each uninterrupted minute. Looking back I have such vivid memories of the farm- probably because I was 100 percent there. I was not getting interrupted by texts or thinking about what I should post on a social networking site. I simply enjoyed the moments I had with my family on the picturesque countryside of Polyface farm.

Our visit to Polyface unexpectedly sparked a personal examination of my use of technology.  I realized that as useful as technology can be, it also limits us. It limits us to communicate and view life through a lens that only partially captures the essence of all life is and can be. When I was in grad school one of the many phrases that stuck out in my mind long after the final exams were taken was “The medium is the message” from Marshall McLuhan. Often we think and worry about what it is we are reading or viewing online. Some people avoid rated “R” movies, others put parental controls on their televisions or computers. Most of us do not realize that the medium we are using (television, iPad, computer, magazine, book, iPhone, etc.) also has an impact on our minds and how we think about the world. Different mediums have different effects. For instance, reading a child a book is going to affect him or her differently than television would. Follow this line of thought for a bit and you will see how the argument that watching a lot of television on a regular basis can affect one’s attention span came into being.

When I visited Polyface and discovered there was no cell service, I was not as disturbed by the lack of service as I was my own reaction that came about as a result of the lack of service. My feelings of isolation were a signal to me that something was amiss. So I took a step back and re-assessed my use of technology. In the weeks following our visit to Polyface I made a conscious effort not to browse my iPhone every time I have a spare second. I also try to not carry my phone around with me all day. If I am out and about, I enjoy what I am doing and I leave my phone tucked away in my purse. All of these are baby steps. I am not brave enough to give up a cell phone completely.  Since I have started distancing myself from my phone, I have found that I am much more productive and creative. I also feel a lot more confident. I make decisions instead of googling them. I am sure I will make a bad decision, one that I could have prevented if I had only googled the question. But, what fun is that? Am I truly learning it if I google it or merely gaining a mere glimpse of all the depth there is in a life truly lived moment by moment- sight by sight, scent by scent, touch by touch, sound by sound, and taste by taste. I hope that I spend the moments I have been given in this life savoring, creating and experiencing all the wonder there is to be found in this life we live.