I live in Southern California. This means earthquakes and blackouts, among other things. Most recently, it was the man-made crisis we had to deal with: some guy in Yuma, Arizona supposedly tripped over a wire and killed power to the western half of the U.S. and some of Mexico. No big deal.
Here’s what happened at my house: we sort of panicked at first. You just have faith that electricity will be there when you flip a switch. It’s sort of the modern-age equivalent of religion, I guess. I’d bet that if people were asked, there would be more people who believe with unshakeable conviction that the lights will turn on, but fewer would believe that God answers prayers.
I had already located lanterns and candles days before because I felt w were going to have an earthquake, so we were semi-prepared. Plus, it was still daylight, so I could find a battery-operated radio, fill up some pitchers with water, and locate games and books for entertainment later.
What I noticed after several hours was that neighbors started walking around outside. It was a warm night, and without air conditioning, people took to the cooler evening air. We went out to look at the stars since the light pollution was significantly lessened. We talked to several neighbors who passed by, shared candles and bottled water, told stories of how we’d been stuck in traffic with no gas. In short, we related to each other in a way that usually only comes from collective hardship.
When the power came back on at 10:30 that night, we all went back to watching T.V., checking email, listening to the news. I sort of missed the closeness we had when the lights went out.
Today, Sunday, my son and I decided to replicate that experience a little bit by riding the trolley downtown. Of course, the trolley wouldn’t work without electricity, but the idea was to go out in the world with our minds unplugged while still having access to the conveniences of modern power.
It was pretty amazing. We talked to strangers, we peeked into closed storefronts, we watched pigeons pecking at crumbs outside the restaurant where we had breakfast. An older woman in a motorized wheelchair rolled by and told me I looked just like a Greek muse as I sat on a stone bench. We heard snippets of conversations from all sorts of people, and identified six different breeds of dog, and helped a woman find a hair salon nearby. We found costume jewelry for a Halloween outfit, and dreamed about what we would be for Halloween, and played tickle tag.
What does this have to do with writing?
I am guilty of plugging in too much. I obsessively wait for emails to pop into my inbox, and I’ve started playing word games on Facebook. I work at a job that is anti-technology, really; I’m a high school teacher, so I truly interact with people all day. I find, though, that many students in high school are so used to being plugged in that they really don’t know how to deal with real human contact, and they lack basic listening and observational skills.
If we hope to groom another generation of writers, we all need to work on engaging with the real world more and the pixel world less. And yes, I do realize the irony of writing a blog about being unplugged. It’s a delicate balance, and I believe I am unbalanced (something many of you already suspected anyway.)
What do you think? Does plugging in help or hinder our work as writers?