Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Escape

I recently read an article in the Economist titled Farewell to Escapism. The tagline was "Technology will track us down anywhere we go in 2015. And we will no longer care."

The article talked about how we used to long for breaks and vacations... getting away from work and laundry and neighbors and school and cooking dinner was something we bragged about doing. We looked forward to sitting on the beach with a book. A cabin in the middle of nowhere. Campsites with fires and playing cards and hot dogs. Even a luxurious cruise where your options are sleeping on deck chairs or bellying up to the buffet. Getting away wasn't about roughing it or minimalizing or even simplicity. Often vacations were about splurges and indulgences or fulfilling dreams.

The appeal was about what we were doing without. Leaving behind. The daily responsibilities. No phone ringing. No correspondence to answer. The newspaper piling up on the porch. When we came back from vacation we had to catch up on what was going on in the world because we were AWAY. On the week of vacation we missed neighbor's birthdays, didn't know the exact second babies were born, blissfully forgot about gas prices and street sweeping and the grass in the backyard.

This is why we came back from vacation rested. We worried about food for the day, sleep for the night, clothes for the weather, activity for the afternoon... moment by moment decisions that are easy to make. We almost go back to the lowest level of Maslow's pyramid. Our basic needs. Low expectations means we can handle things, often with happiness and calm.

And we joked that on the plane flight home, the drive back, the hike to base camp, that we could feel the impending doom of "real life" waiting for us on Monday. Vacation was over. Our break was coming to a close and we were about to be found again. Our quiet was going to be filled with voicemails and emails and piles of mail. But we didn't know about it while we were AWAY. All the mail waited for us, and somehow we survived and kept our relationships and our jobs and our schoolwork intact. The people in our life let us escape without demanding we be available.

The suggestion of this article is that not only do these escapes no longer exist, but even if they did, we wouldn't want them.

We no longer want to go days without knowing things. We don't even want to go minutes.

We feel guilty if we step away from our inbox for a week. We don't think others can handle our job.

We feel our friendships depend on daily contact. We worry people will think we don't care if we don't respond.

Or maybe, even more personally intimate, we don't want the people in our life to go a week without us.

I hung the Economist article on our refrigerator because even just seeing the title Farewell to Escape makes me pause. I resonate with this description from Wroe's article:

"The early 19th century escapist was a poet, packing his bags and setting out for the sublimities of the Alps in which he would find, in solitude, his soul; leaving behind a pile of debt and bastards, and hoping no one would pursue him. As the century ended he was a gypsy, squatting by his roadside fire, or a tramp, in rags and broken down hat: anything counter to the nine to five routine and the neat suburban house." A century ago, escapism was about physical proximity to other humans and the weight of growing civilization. The poets and gypsies wanted to be unencumbered by the responsibility of culture that was demanding they build and accumulate. These escapists knew the less you had, the less you had to move when your restless feet wanted new adventures. But they were becoming few and far between as modern industrial culture grew.

Wroe makes the correlation between the trails of modern life (house, bills, desk job) and the trails of digital life. The interwebs tracks everything for us...the news feeds we prefer, the websites we purchase at, the cities we want to know the weather in, even our search history of what we have recently been interested in. And the alerts of our voicemail and texts and emails tether us as long as we keep our device at hand. We have become so used to being followed that we don't look over our shoulder any more. "We are all public property...If we are now permanently on call, observed, collated and connected, so be it; that is modern life. Much faster than we rebuff the trackers, we embrace them; and like Ulysses strapped to the mast as the Sirens wove their songs around him, it is clear that we no longer wish to escape at all."

Is this true?? Do we not want to escape any more? Can I keep the margins I love while inviting in the people I love too? What if I didn't respond to an email for a week. What if I didn't answer a text message for a day or two. What if I didn't check IG until the babes were in bed. Would I relax into the quiet escape? Or would I feel the nervous twitch of having too much space between myself and my digital trail?

Am I Ulysses strapped to the mast desperately trying to escape my chains or could I be Jason playing another song so beautiful that I wouldn't even hear the Siren's call?