Saturday, September 19, 2009

"everything is so amazing..."

we just got back recently from a nine-day tour of southern oregon & northern california national parks & monuments. 2 adults, a 14-year-old, and a 5 and 5/6ths year old. to his credit, the 14-year old didn't complain too much once we got on the road. and to his credit, the 5 year old didn't ask "how much longer?" more than 4,326 times.

this post could have a lot to do with place, but it doesn't. it's about wildness instead. what got me thinking was when we were driving in between lassen national park and lava beds national monument. suddenly J (the 14 year old) realized we were in cell phone range. 'cool', he said, 'maybe we'll have coverage at the campground'.

here's where i don't go all curmudgeon-y. in fact, i'm a little tired of people my age and older constantly complaining about how connected kids these days are and what dire consequences for society and face-to-face interpersonal communications that will have. how it signals the decline of Western Civilization, Since They Will Not In The Future Be Able To Communicate At All. i remember vividly the days of not being connected. of arranging call times with friends, racing to pick up the phone after one ring so as not to disturb the parents, dragging the phone with the 20-foot cord to the bedroom and closing the door (until the time the irate parent picked it up and said, 'get off the phone!'). am i a better person for it, with better communication skills? i kind of doubt it.

it is amazing, though, that these days even camping does not necessarily mean disconnected. used to be that heading out on a weeks' vacation with the parents meant absolutely no contact with your friends. it was like exile, really.

and what if that's not such a bad thing? used to be that we all dreamed about being out there - you know, beyond the reach of anything. in the true wilderness. you against the land. my side of the mountain, and all that. totally alone...well, except all the jet trails crossing overhead. these days, there's no such illusions. maybe it's only appropriate that teens these days have no expectations of wilderness, of being truly alone. they don't consider it an option. they are - always connected. and, with 6+ billion people on the planet, i'm wondering if that won't be an advantage, survival-wise.

humans are incredibly adaptable. without adaptation, without societal evolution, my only option in life would be to be an uneducated breeder. i'm thinking that teens these days - who don't ever mind being utterly connected, who never expect otherwise, who can find privacy in the midst of crowds with ipods and by texting as opposed to phone conversations that can be overheard - i'm thinking that they might be better positioned for our crowded future than we are, with our archaic expectations of wilderness and solitude.

maybe i was most amazed at my reaction to his comment. when he said that, i didn't really care. turns out he'd been with us for a week already, and had never complained about lack of contact, lack of cell coverage. he had, in fact, hiked 5 miles a day with us. he had been duly, and i think truly, impressed by redwoods and volcanoes, fumaroles and mud pots. he had hiked down to the beach in northern california where there were no other humans in sight the entire time - from start of hike, to exploring the beach, to the return. all this, without complaint. he was just saying hey, it'd be ok with him to once again be in contact. i can't really begrudge him that. i saw him at that moment as a supremely adaptable human. i was reminded of a video clip i love of Louis CK, talking about someone on a plane who was disgruntled at a momentary lack of wireless service - "Everything is so amazing, and no one is happy". everything is so amazing - redwoods, a secluded beach in california, craters, and texting in the middle of a lava field. i guess i'd rather seek out the good, and be happy, than decry unequivocally the decline of culture*.

*especially since it doesn't matter a bit which i do.


  1. Nice piece. I vividly remember trying to answer the phone within a half a ring, so as to not disturb my parents. I am also sometimes jealous of the access that kids have now that we didn't have. I can only imagine having the ability to actually connect with pretty much anything of interest in a small amount of time back in the day!

  2. Sigh sigh sigh. And wow. I'm trying to figure out how to get the whole world to read this. I think I can find a way to swing it on Facebook.

    love c