Untether Me… From my Digital Chains


I often find myself asking… Why do we have 5 computers in this house when there are only 2 of us? And, this does not include our work laptops. Each week, I easily spend 30 of my 40 work hours “tethered” to a tower with 2 cell phones attached to a bluetooth headset. When I get home, I invest another 50+ hours on my personal laptop(s). Not to mention, I am a “girl gamer” with previous bouts of addiction to WOW on my mac, Borderlands on the PS3 and am back at it again with “Pocket Frogs” on my iPod Touch. There’s got to be more to life than constant digital stimulation and I am not referring to frisky hands in the bedroom.

While walking to the store tonight, I observed this guy jay-walking diagonally at a signaled intersection and I thought to myself “that’s smart” in a “I should have done that” kind of way. I mean, come on… parts of Midtown Sacramento are a ghost town after business hours and jaywalking should be mandatory. So, I actually said to him “good idea! Walking diagonally” and he looked at me like I was a freak and I said, “no, seriously. I should’ve done that.” Still, he looked at me like something was seriously wrong with me. Come on people! Where is the human interaction in this country? Why can’t we talk to our neighbors, those we pass on the street, those we sit next to on the subway, or those who live across the hall.

When I lived in Boston, I hated taking the subway to work for one simple reason: everyone looks at their feet, even when it is not crowded. Why is it socially awkward in the U.S. to say hello to strangers? I realized quickly in Boston that looking people in the eye was generally not interpreted as a friendly gesture and instead could be perceived as a hostile threat. I can’t imagine how Boston subways are now, ten years later, with everyone tethered to some device.

I wasn’t raised this way! I was raised in a small town in Michigan where everyone knows everyone. If you didn’t look a “stranger” in the eye on the street and say “hello,” you would likely get chastised later for ignoring your grandmother’s best friend’s uncle even though you had never met the guy. So, I learned at an early age to be genuinely friendly to everyone, only later in life was I forced to adapt and become skeptical of all, instead.

What have we become? It is completely acceptable to be connected to machines, gadgets, and phones all day like a “Matrix,” but not really connect with people. When we do connect with people, it’s rushed… “I can only stay for an hour because my daughter has a ballet lesson, a soccer game and a birthday party, all in the same day,” or “sorry, I have to take this call.”

About 3 years ago, everything changed for me. Linda was working on her Master’s Thesis about the women within the Zapatista revolutionary movement. Being the prudent student she is, she felt it necessary to actually witness the culture, movement and people firsthand instead of simply writing a literature review of content readily available. So, off to Chiapas we went with no plan or agenda, except to try to find, enter and interview people within one of the autonomous Zapatista communities. We were successful at all three and it forever altered my “world.”

We returned to Chiapas 7 months later to attend the annual Zapatista “encuentro” or “Encounter with the World” hosted for the first time by the women within the movement (See videos here). During this visit, we camped inside a caracole (an autonomous Zapatista community) for several nights. Inside the tiny tent, in the pouring rain with bronchitis slowly creeping into my lungs, my passion for traveling was born.

So, what’s the point of this post, besides a rant about my tethered life? Well, I will tell you. Once you interact with people who aren’t “tethered,” who have a genuine interest in the daily life surrounding them, and who are genuinely willing to speak with you as if you were a life-long friend, you will understand the shift that occurred within my heart. The very same cultural shift that is occurring across the U.S. within a small segment of society who are setting aside the traditional American Dream to build their own version of the American Dream.

In 2011, I will get a small taste of life untethered by leaving my bluetooth and “smart phone” behind as I travel the world for six months. I will still be plugged into the network as I blog my way around the world, but my time “connected” will be a fraction of the 80+ hours I currently spend each week. I have made a vow to myself to actually “live” the ~45.4 years I have remaining on this planet. And, this upcoming trip is just the beginning.

Who wants to join me in living a “life untethered?”

6 thoughts on “Untether Me… From my Digital Chains

  1. An ‘untethered’ life – we’re all for it!! We can only congratulate you on your decision to go travel and leave your workplace behind. We felt exactly the same way before we set off on our trip and ‘starting to live’ was the best decision we made! We still find ourselves on our netbooks much more often than we’d like to, as we both work while traveling, however, like you say – it’s just a fraction of what we spent in front of a computer screen before, and now we can decide where and when we want to get our work done.

  2. Ideally, I will be tethered less than 10 hours per week on the trip for HMW, but with Nomad Courier that might increase to about 20. If I can keep it to under 20 for both sites, I will consider myself successful. If I could somehow jump to a 4HWW lol… then I would be a rockstar like Tim Ferriss. Doubt that is going to happen this go-round. Cheers to the living…

  3. Wow, it is crazy when you actually do the math and put the # of hours we are on our “connection tools”. I would not want to calculate my hours cus I think I would be horrified.

    I do have to agree with you about in this country no one looks at each other or even acknowledge each other. In Mexico no matter where you are most of the time when some one is passing you at least make eye contact and say ADIOSSSS…lol!!! Its just the right thing to do in the end we are all human.

    Now about being untethered I am with you on that one. Once I am on the road I know aside from blogging and tweets in between I will not be connected. It would be pointless to travel and be connected.

  4. I was going to go into more detail about culture and genuine friendliness in Mexico, but it didn’t really flow. However, it is awesome when you are at dinner and strangers will walk by saying “Provecho” or “enjoy your meal.”

    I could go on and on about how we played “Phase 10” (a dice game) with some indigenous girls and they taught us some words in their native dialect. About how we spent hours talking with the man who developed El Panchan, was one of the first guides at Palenque, and he took us on a personal guided tour (his first trip back in years).

    I think I am literally going to flush my bluetooth down the toilet before I leave…

  5. I haven’t had a phone since I started traveling in December of 2008. I now really like not having one. But I still am mega-tethered via the damn internet ;)

  6. Hey Michael, thanks for checking out my blog and for the re-tweet. I really like your site re-design by the way.

    I can’t wait until I no longer have a phone on my hip and one in my pocket. And, ideally, I will not be attached to the laptop too much when we travel.

    I will be spending the next 6 months focusing on just that – streamlining everything online so I can minimize my internet umbilical cord. If you have any tips, let me know.

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