I went on a deer hunting trip last week to a location off the grid. I’ve done it before many times but this time for some reason had a bit more impact.
This was a secluded corner of northeastern Washington. Off the grid means no internet, no commercial electric power, no telephone, no cable, no broadcast TV, and no broadcast FM radio (AM radio may have been an option – if any of us had an AM radio). No news, no politics, no social media – nothing. I was there a little over a week.
In addition to being “off the grid” you are also living outside for the most part. As one might expect, at first you struggle to acclimate to both the physical environment and the psychological one.
You can throw on your long underwear and grab a coat to compensate for the climate, but there are no such quick fixes for the isolation from the news, social media, your friends, and your family.
A cigarette smoker doesn’t think much about cigarettes until he runs out of them. A habitual drinker doesn’t think much about booze or beer until he has none. And none of us think much about the internet or social media day to day – unless we are cut off from it.
I found being cut off from the internet disorienting for a day or two. That was coupled with the fact that my office hours suddenly became irrelevant. What became relevant was; what time was sunrise and what time was sunset? Is it cold this morning? Should I put on some extra clothes? What am I going to eat? Where are the deer? Is my rifle clean?
And safety. Assuming you or your group could get word to the appropriate responders immediately, a trip to the nearest hospital was 6 hours out – even by air. So suddenly something you take for granted and worry very little about at home (like a sharp butcher knife for example), becomes something you really think about. Don’t jump off a log – and don’t jump down out of the bed of your pickup – climb down carefully unless you are ok with the prospect of lying there with a broke leg for the better part of the day before help arrives – and this is if everything goes well.
A few days before I left on this trip, I got permanently banned from a subreddit. I confess that it bothered me more than it should have – for about two days. A moderator on that sub assumed I was posting about a new 1911 that hit the market because I was paid to. The moderator was wrong. I subscribe to a YouTube channel that featured this new handgun and thought others might be interested. I have no affiliation with the YouTube channel or the gun manufacturer. The moderator made a bad assumption. I really should not have let it bother me – and I reflected on that at hunting camp.
Being off grid, isolated from the media and social media, and insulated from your daily office hours forces you to start to think about what is real, what is important.
At home, I check media and social media sources several times a day. Upon my return to civilization, what do you think I found when I checked those same sources? I found that nothing much had changed – at least nothing of relevance or urgency to me. The media, social media, and the internet in general is much like the old joke from the 1970s about soap operas – you can tune in two weeks later and pick up right where you left off and figure out everything that happened in between. And as for the parallels between the media and social media and soap operas, that is only the beginning.
On social media, the day-to-day drama is to be expected – it is what it is designed for. On mainstream media it’s a bit different. Shortly before I left, there was a good deal of concern about nuclear weapons being deployed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict (not entirely without reason) but hardly a breath about this a week and a half later on my return. Mainstream media has become the soap opera joke – if they had a story with some real teeth and substance, why would it disappear a week later? Ask yourself how many times you see that – every week.
When I was quite young, my mother would talk over morning coffee with here friends in the neighborhood about what was happening on General Hospital or Days of Our Lives. They were obviously heavily invested (at least emotionally) in what was going on. Likewise, I was more upset than I should have been about that subreddit ban.
But the lesson of last week was this: None of it is real. Social media – your follower count – your likes – none of it is real. It’s no more real than General Hospital in 1972. It’s manufactured – just like a television series – to try to make you care. It matters to you only because you allow it to matter to you.
You may not be a deer hunter and you may not be a camper – so I won’t advise you to go off grid and “get back in touch with nature” but I will suggest you go off grid and get back in touch with reality – with what really matters to you in your life and in your circumstance. It is quite refreshing – and healthy psychologically in my opinion.