Switching Off

By Steve Chase

I recently took a road trip to northern Maine, where I skipped off the grid for five days. It’s something I try to do at least once a year. While I don’t like to be out of contact with my family, or miss anything special on the continuous news ticker that the Internet provides, I find this disconnection is a good thing, an exercise in mindfulness and living in the moment, important medicine for our hectic, Internet-connected lives. Who wouldn’t want replacement media that might include the sound of loons, the smell of a campfire, or a melody of a mandolin drifting through the campsite?

On the drive up we had some great music—I had made a couple of playlists, pulled some concerts off my database, and had the entire catalog of Spotify for more random selections. As we drove into the woods in a different vehicle, there was no way to play music, so I sent one last text home, and then watched the signal strength on my phone drop from a few bars to “no signal”, and I powered it off, as it was no longer needed.

Last September, as I drove back from another fishing trip, I heard an interview with Grist.org blogger David Roberts about an article he wrote for Outside Magazine called “Reboot or Die Trying” (www.outsideonline.com/1926796/reboot-or-die-trying). In the piece, Roberts was putting in 12 hours or more of screen time a day, writing, tweeting, researching and checking and responding to email. He said: “My mind was perpetually in the state that researcher and technology writer Linda Stone termed continuous partial attention. I was never completely where I was, never entirely doing what I was doing.”

Roberts decided to break away from the screens for a whole year, and he found a liberation that many of us from pre-Internet times don’t remember today. After a year, he dove back into the screens, but made a few rules that helped provide balance, like taking 15-minutes off the screens every two-hours, or using the app Freedom (http://macfreedom.com) that blocks the Internet on your devices to allow for some real concentration.

Of course, my few days on Churchill Lake, disconnected from the Internet, were but a token gesture compared to Robert’s experience. On our trip we focused on living in camp, during almost continuous rain. I really did not miss being connected—the camp chores, cooking, and fishing kept us busy. Sitting around a campfire with friends after a good dinner—social networking—beats reading my Twitter feed or hearing that blasted email chime any day.

I’m not ready for a year offline right now. I have to use the Internet for a number of reasons, my work being the highest priority, but we can all take a little break from the screens and practice some focus on whatever we might be doing even in this media soaked, online-intensive culture. And listening to music qualifies in my book as taking a break—sitting and listening to Copland’s Symphony No. 3 or Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick in their entirety can be a great way to focus, and relax. One warning, before entering the wilds, always make sure the music from your last hour in the car is carefully chosen, as these tunes will be the soundtrack in your head for your entire trip. You don’t want to be humming Wagon Wheel for five days, do you?

My Fusion Guitar Picks

This month’s playlist is my fusion variation on a list I recently saw on the best jazz guitar albums of all time. While some of my favorites, like Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie are on ECM records, a label that has walked away from any music streaming services, preferring download sites like ITunes or www.gubemusic.com/, this Spotify list has some remarkable material to listen to. Listen here: http://playlists.net/epolyphony-jazz-fusion-guitar-selections .