If you’re an older generation, then you’ve probably been decrying the danger of social media for years. As a GenZ’er, I’ve heard your warnings.
I have also dismissed them as over-exaggerated .
It’s become a cultural norm to wind down after a busy day with a couple hours of Youtube, maybe some scrolls through Instagram. That’s my daily routine as well. Even on days when I have decided not to use my phone at night, a couple hours of tossing and turning quickly eliminates my resolve.
So, it wasn’t until I began a career as an ecologist that I actually went long periods of time without my phone. Not hours. Days.
Sound like a nightmare?
Actually, it was kind of the best. My stress decreased by 100%.
Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned traveling for weeks without reception.
1. I’m Not as Important as I Thought
When I set out upon my first field position, I had the notion that this was going to be pretty difficult for the people that loved me.
I mean, some of these people were in daily communication with me. Questions like “These shoes are fine with these pants, right?” “Should I have chicken or beef for dinner?” “Should I switch my major?”
But suddenly, I wouldn’t be able to respond right away. Isn’t it natural to assume that they would miss me? Be devasted even.
When I returned home, the first thing I did was call my friends. They were all happy to hear from me, but no one had been particularly devastated. They had other people to double-check their fashion choices with, after all.
I would have been offended, except that I hadn’t been devastated either. I had enjoyed my time in isolation! Maybe independence didn’t always mean being forgotten. It was a small step away from attachment and towards authentic love. And an even bigger step towards humility.
2. Stillness is nice
In a world of constant notifications, stillness is a foreign concept. Out in the field, I discovered it and fell completely in love with it.
For example, one weekend on the California coast, my fieldmates and I were spending our time as we wished. Leaving my phone behind in my tent, I hiked to a secluded part of the beach. The quiet breeze and crashing waves created a natural lullaby. My attention caught on a group of rocks. Picking them up, I found they were completely smooth. On an impulse, I threw the rock on the ground to crack it open.
The inside was full of crystals.
Would I have discovered this if I’d had my phone in hand? And if I had, would it have captured my attention?
For a deeper reflection on stillness, check out this post: Stillness.
3. “Urgent” can usually wait
The third thing I discovered is that “urgent” can usually wait.
Let me add a caveat to this. I am 23 years old. I don’t have children or anyone else relying on me. Thus, perhaps this point does not fully apply to people with more responsibilities. Either way, in my case, I found that most of what was causing me stress was actually not stressful at all. Here’s how I discovered this.
In preparation of my departure into the field, I set up an auto-reply email:
Hello, I am currently in the field without access to reception or wi-fi. I will be returning this date. I will do my best to get back to you then. Best, Mariel.”
As someone who checks her email multiple times an hour, going a day, two days, three days without checking my email was almost like going a couple of days without drinking water. As we drove from one field site to the next, I would watch the bars on my phone intently. The moment reception hit, I would check my email.
I had ongoing research projects, writing submissions, and job applications to check up on, after all. But the adrenaline with which I quickly scrolled through my email always resulted in an anti-climax. There just wasn’t anything that urgent to take care of. And even if there was something important, then it was usually just plain stressful–for example, a change in insurance requirements or a new training required by school.
Eventually, I stopped checking emails. And now, I set up my “sorry, don’t have wi-fi” email even when I’m at a field site that does have wi-fi. After all, there’s nothing so urgent that it can’t wait a week or two.
4. It’s okay not to respond to people you dislike
In a similar vein, working in the field sans-reception was the perfect excuse not to respond to anybody.
It’s a double-edged sword, because of course there are people you do want to respond to. But that necessary sacrifice is greatly rewarded when the people you don’t want to respond to suddenly can’t reach you.
This is so nice, I would think to myself, hiking through an Australian forest with a microphone to record birds. I don’t have to respond to so-and-so for four more days. My own thoughts sounded mean to me at first. I didn’t even dislike the person, I simply didn’t want to respond.
But when I returned to civilization I realized…they don’t need me to respond to them. We weren’t that close. And do people even want to be responded to out of obligation?
It’s a relatively new thing to be always available to be contacted by anyone. But setting boundaries and choosing not to always respond, leads to a whole new level of freedom.
5. Bad Jokes are Funny
Bad jokes are funny.
Ok, so any friend of mine will probably tell you that bad jokes are never funny. No one has quite appreciated my whale joke. Except for my fieldmates.
It was a deliriousness-inducing exhausting day. We hadn’t had access to our regular forms of entertainment in days. So, when I let out the OooooOOOhhUUaaaaaUUUOOOOoooooo’s that make up the joke, my fieldmates collapsed into their chairs struggling to breathe through laughter.
Even I admit it is not a funny joke. But that day, nothing was funnier. And this is exactly my point.
When you don’t have handy 15-second videos to make you laugh, normal things become funny. Although, in the whale joke’s defense, I consider it funny in or out of the field.
Overall, not having reception during fieldwork is one of my favorite parts of the job! Want to know more about working a field ecologist? Check out this post: The 5 Pros and Cons of Working as an Ecological Technician.