Dispatches From the Field: Connection in Disconnection

By: A SAWS Seasonal Employee

As a young person (or any person) in this day and age, it is practically impossible to live a productive life without being connected through some sort of technology. For some it may come naturally to view this connection as purely beneficial. We can share ideas globally in an instant, access endless information and entertainment, stay in touch with distant friends and family, find job opportunities, look up directions to anywhere we need to go, and connect with strangers who share similar interests.  But for me and many others this connection comes at a cost.

It’s 12am and I am in my bed scrolling through Reddit, the light from my phone is now the only thing brighter than the streetlight that shines through my blinds. I wish I could sleep but the urge to see new content is too strong. After a while of browsing I close my eyes to see if I can drift off. I suddenly remember that one news story I saw 2 weeks ago and want to see how it resolved. Back on my phone. But instead of looking up how the story resolved I get distracted by a picture that appears in a thumbnail. I click. And click. And click again and soon find myself knee deep in Wikipedia tabs ranging from The Roman-Persian Wars to Ferromagnetic materials.

It’s morning now and I wake up only to check my phone to see what I missed while I slept. I stay in bed for the next 30 mins checking my phone until I remember I have to eat breakfast and brush my teeth. I have only been up for an hour and my mind is already so dulled and exhausted. I meet up with some friends but have trouble keeping focus during conversation. I feel like I am always somewhere else. Why do I get so easily distracted? Why am I constantly wishing I was someplace else? What can I do to live a healthier, happier, and more productive life?

I asked myself those questions for years before I truly realized the steps I needed to take. And once I did realize what I needed I actually had to take action. I first identified what things I thought were causing me the most trouble. Unsurprisingly one of the most impactful things I could think of was my internet usage. I spent a lot of time constantly stimulating my brain with new bits of information and jumping around from article to article (headlines really), picture to picture, video to video, without really ever putting much effort into anything I was looking at. This was effecting my brain in ways I didn’t understand. After more research on the topic I found that I am far from alone in suffering negative effects of constant connectivity. In fact, many studies have been done that show how irresponsible internet usage can physically effect the users brain and effect many aspects of quality of life.

Once you are accustomed to the level of stimulation and novelty that the internet can provide then things in ordinary life can cease to be as meaningful and exciting as they should be. Shorter attention spans are a common result as well. I pretty much gave up reading books because I couldn’t focus for that long. Even activities I thoroughly enjoy, like playing guitar, could only be enjoyed in short sessions before I felt the need to do something else. At my worst I felt extremely trapped between my desire to accomplish many different things and my inability to focus on those things long enough to make any meaningful progress.

So, I could see that Internet use was negatively impacting me, and reducing internet use is difficult when you are essentially addicted to it. What I needed to get over the hump was something meaningful and fulfilling to occupy the time that otherwise would be spent indoors on the computer. That is exactly what a summer working for SAWS provided (in addition to many other great things).

With SAWS I was using my time in a novel and wholesome way. Spending five, nine day hitches away from technology and the hustle and bustle of society. And not just eliminating that from my life temporarily but instead replacing it with more meaningful activities, working towards a cause that I am passionate about. Connecting instead with my crew members, fellow staff, and the natural world around me. Not with my phone. It gave me the opportunity to truly have a space to gather my thoughts and appreciate the wild and beautiful lands of our world. Lands that exist independently of any human worry or fear and will continue to exist far into the future thanks to the efforts of those passionate about them.

This summer my mind was opened up once again to the sounds of nature instead of news alerts and advertisements. Opened up to the sights of beautiful landscapes and interesting creatures. Opened up to the feeling of freedom that I hope all will have the opportunity to enjoy in the generations to come.

I’ve come back to my life as a student now but have not forgotten the lessons learned this summer. I feel in control of technology. Using it to foster meaningful connection, creativity, and learning without falling into mindless surfing. I’m finally able to focus my efforts to make progress on my goals. I am reading again, writing songs, and learning about difficult subjects. Sure, there will be times where I am unmotivated or fatigued, but now I have a feeling driving me. The deep-seated feeling that I will always be a part of the wild, and the wild will always be a part of me.