Low-tech company

I haven’t said much about my experience of living off the grid for around three months. Allen and I hardly went without material comforts, because we had plenty of fuel (including wind power) for electric light, cooking, hot water etc. We did take modern gadgets to keep ourselves amused — and e-books on a tablet really lighten the reading load! But what we didn’t have was access to the internet — or even radio, other than for emergency communications. And on top of that — it’s winter down here!

Allen never got the internet habit, neither via computer or smartphone — but home in Seattle, he’s on his cell phone all the time — and he did appreciate the down time to be alone with his own thoughts.

I’ve been known to have a cell-phone glued to my ear for hours a day. My wife used to turn the ringer off and hide my phone in order to get me to give it a rest. For the last five years, I have had an iPhone — but I need to talk on it a lot — and so cannot waste too much battery charge using it for internet access.

Alene, on the other hand, rarely makes a phone call — so she has no worries about using her iPhone all day long for all kinds of things. The only limitation is the 2GB monthly data allowance — but she spends a lot of time in coffee shops and other places with WiFi. And as soon as she sits down anywhere, out comes the phone. On the bus, she listens to podcasts and audiobooks — and I don’t mind that, because it is a constructive way to use that time. And, it does makes sense to make use of WiFi at coffee shops and conserve cellular data to use where it’s the only internet connection (such as at home!)

But today Alene was at one of those trendy beer joints that has microbrews and hard ciders. She ordered an apricot-flavored cider that she said was wonderful — and found a perch from where she could see the whole room, the Mariners game on TV, and the view outside on the street. Then out came the iPhone and she checked for WiFi. Finding none, she read the last chapter of her library book on Overdrive — and then searched for another title to download — but finding nothing that grabbed her, she switched to reading the news. I suggested she put the phone away and just enjoy being out having a drink on Saturday afternoon — something she very rarely does.

When Alene moved to Seattle in 2001, going to a local brewpub was a Saturday afternoon ritual. She sat alone at the bar — but of course, I was keeping her company from a distance. Sometimes she engaged in conversation with someone, and I enjoyed listening in. Usually we eavesdropped on conversations and watched whatever might be going on out on California Avenue. And we watched the Mariners on TV, even thought we’re not baseball fans. Alene always took her cell phone — but it was nothing more than a substitute for the watch she doesn’t wear.

I finally got Alene to put her phone away and we spent the time the way we used to — and I got a little nostalgic for our early years in Seattle — when Alene believed in me wholeheartedly — and I didn’t have to compete with the internet for her attention.

Alene admitted she missed it too.


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