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Digital detox in the high Cascades

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Ben Long | Aug 10, 2012 06:00 AM

Turns out, I’m so far behind the curve in the electronic media I’m cutting edge. 

Years ago, I realized my basic neo-Luddite constitution did not square with making a living in the modern communication industry. So I learned to download and up-link. I “blog” and “friend” as verbs. I’ve got desktops, laptops, tablets and a phone that is smarter than me. But, in my heart, give me a good book or even smoke signals. 

Last week, I spent a day climbing a minor peak in the Washington Cascades with several of my second cousins, nieces and nephews.  They ranged from a quarter to half my age. I would like to say I lead the group, but fact is I was puffing hard to keep up.

 Frisk Family Cousins in the Cascades

They are digital natives. I’m an analog mind, trying to squeeze into a digital age. They were almost a parody of their wired generation; I was a parody of the clueless curmudgeon. 

I was doing a digital detox – a week at the lake house without computer or cell phone. My younger compatriots were having none of that. 

Their “mobile devices” were omnipresent. And why not? They were handy.

When another part of the hiking party turned back, they send a convenient text message. 

Hear that bird? iBird confirmed it to be a dusky grouse. 

But after a few miles, we rounded a bend and the terrain blocked the signals. We were alone in the oversized forests of the Northwest, left to our own thoughts and conversations. Their patter brought to mind my Boy Scout hikes of decades past, when Steve Jobs was just dreaming about an information revolution. 

The teenage machismo, the inside humor, the pop culture references, the huffing, puffing, teasing and encouragement was very familiar and probably ageless. 

So was the sense of accomplishment and even exultation that comes with stepping on top of one of these peaks and seeing the world sweep away in great waves of snowcapped stone. The kids were mostly flatlanders, making the effect even more profound. 

We celebrated by whipping out the smart phones, mugging it up and clicking pictures.  Suddenly the kids were waving their devises in the air, trying to find signal strong enough to send celebratory text or email, complete with photo evidence, to friends back home.

“How many bars you got?”

It turned out my digital reprieve is cutting edge. Even the industry leaders in Silicon Valley are concerned about the impacts of psychological addiction to electronic information. It strikes me as odd, like the CEO of the big cigarette companies being among the first to warn about lung cancer. 

For me, I’m grateful for the lee side of the ridge, places where Mother Nature and geology conspire to block the information tsunami that is sweeping over the world  and our lives. 

So should we plan for wild zones with no Wi-Fi, as we plan the future of our public lands, or simply accept that this will be part of tomorrow’s outdoor experience?

Ben Long is an author, outdoorsman and conservationist from Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director at Resource Media and is alarmed at the rate the mountains are growing steeper as he grows older.

Image: The first summit is the sweetest: A clan of cousins atop Dirty Face Mountain in the Washington Cascades. Ben Long photo. 

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