It is good but also somewhat tough to be back online after a full week offline in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. If we hadn’t returned home so late last night, driving through and between thunderstorms across the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, I would have recorded a short video podcast to reflect on the trip as well as show (for fun) my markedly changed facial profile after forgoing my shaving razor for seven days. My family hardly recognized me! A face of long whiskers was certainly a tangible sign I had been unplugged from my normal routines for an extended period of time!
There is GREAT value in unplugging from technology and digital information streams for multiple days. This family vacation was the first opportunity I’ve had in over two years to “unplug” completely from technology for several days in a row. We camped near Jemez Springs, New Mexico, which is a fantastic destination for multiple reasons, but one of the best is that it currently has zero cell phone coverage! We were unplugged and offline by choice AND by function of our selected geography. The result was a superb break from the to-do lists and constant information streams which normally characterize our busy lives.
The only interruption in this succession of “unplugged” days took place last Thursday, when we woke to cold, blustery clouds and light snow falling on our campground. After breakfast, we headed out to visit nearby Los Alamos, where we caught a movie and visited the Bradbury Science Museum. Los Alamos National Laboratory continues to operate and is most famous for the role it played in the Manhattan Project. (I’ll post an audio reflection I made at the museum as a podcast later this week.) While in Los Alamos, my wife and I used my iPhone to check email messages and voicemails. That was a MISTAKE. After returning back to our campground, that evening going to sleep we both found our heads filled with issues and concerns which had been brought to our attention by our brief interactions with our “regular lives” via email and phone messages.
It takes awhile to mentally “unplug” from the business of life. My wife taught for the DOD in Germany in the early 1990s, and was impressed by the attitude many Germans and German employers have regarding vacations. Many Germans take a MONTH of vacation at a time, and believe it is necessary to take multiple weeks off in order to decompress and begin to really relax away from work and its related stresses. A multi-week vacation is a luxury many people today outside of education might never be able to consider from a financial perspective. Even for people who HAVE long amounts of accumulated vacation, however, the prospect of being gone from work for more than a week can seem impossible. I know university support staff members who were being forced to take vacation days in a “use it or lose it” situation, and were reluctant even to take those days off. It seems many in our society have forgotten or never learned how to relax, and it can be a real challenge to make the time in our schedules for relaxation. Our lives are so filled with activities and commitments. Even when we go on a vacation, often a “schedule” is maintained which can be exhausting in itself. Extended periods of time to relax and decompress can be elusive.
On our trip across I-40 to New Mexico, we encountered multiple road signs. I snapped this image last night just outside Alanreed, Texas, one of the many small towns which grew up along Route 66. The mammatus clouds were a clear sign of the turbulent atmosphere and storms we’d face on our trek back east to our home:
As I face the predictable mountain of email messages, voicemails, and to-dos after a week’s vacation, I’m struck by how important it is that we find regular times during the week to intentionally unplug and disconnect from our screens. On the drive out to New Mexico, I listened to a speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. in 1968. I purchased a series of his speeches from iTunes a few years ago. In the speech, Dr. King encouraged listeners to spend time quietly with their own thoughts, instead of constantly “plugging in” to televisions, radios, and other media sources. I was struck by how much “worse,” comparatively, our situation is today in 2008 compared to 1968 when it comes to unplugging from media. I do love my iPod and iPhone, and the opportunities they provide me to learn and be influenced by the ideas of others. (One of the highlights of our return journey yesterday was listening to the latest Seedlings podcast from June 1st, for example.) “Digital discipline” is extremely important in our modern era, however, and although he did not use those words that was my paraphrase of Dr. King’s message from his speech in 1968.
I named our family learning blog “Learning Signs” because I like the metaphor of looking for tangible “signs” of change. What are the signs in your own life, during vacation times, that you have truly unplugged from media and technology? Disconnection from most technologies (not my propane stove and heater, however, and not our cameras we use to document our vacation!) increasingly define “vacation” for me. Here are a few of my favorite public images (which I have not made “private” on Flickr because they contain images of our kids) which seem to suggest signs of “disconnection” and a less technological daily focus.
I miss the mountains of New Mexico already!
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On this day..
- Google Hangouts 101 and Sharing Lessons with Google Tools - 2014
- Playing with Media in Houston, Texas - 2011
- Education can empower us with skills to act upon the world - 2010
- Sketchcasting: A combination of blogging, talking and drawing! - 2010
- Lots of phone stalls, but not many phones! - 2010
- T3 Grant Notes (ARRA Stimulus funds for Educational Technology competitively released by the Texas Education Agency) - 2009
- Podstock Southwest in El Paso - 6-7 August 2009 - 2009
- Discussing GirlsGoGames.com - A conversation about values and media literacy - 2009
- Moodle as "the killer app" - 2008
- Professional development and professional learning networks are key - 2007