A year ago, I was given a gray t-shirt depicting two bears, a mother and baby, across the chest. They were printed in white, and the words “Long Lake” stretched beneath them like a path. It was a gift from my boyfriend, Robby, who visited me where I worked as a camp counselor. He had just returned from a trip to his family’s cabin on Long Lake’s shore. The lake is tucked safely away in Adirondack State Preserve, located in upstate New York.
As I unfolded the t-shirt, stories began to fly.
“You would love it there, Hannah,” he said. “My sisters and I went there all the time as kids. We used to pick blueberries from the bushes outside and my dad would make incredible pancakes.”
Long Lake sounded like something out of a fairy tale. Water so still that you could hear a far-off whisper, tiny islands with names like Pancake and Feather, chipmunks eating popcorn kernels right out of your hand.
“Next summer, we’ll go,” he said.
This past July, his statement came to fruition. We made the twelve-hour haul up to Long Lake with Robby’s three roommates. Toward the end of the drive, the air got cooler, the sky got brighter, and the tiny service bars on our phones began to drop.
“The cabin’s pretty isolated,” said Robby. “There’s no cell service or electricity.” He had said it before, but as buildings turned to houses and houses gave way to trees, the word “isolated” began to crystallize around us. I looked at my increasingly useless phone, realizing with a twinge of shame just how much time I let my world shrink to a five-and-a-half inch screen. Scrolling through Twitter and Youtube had become a go-to activity in between daily events. While I once painted or wrote or did yoga at random times during the day, I now found myself increasingly complacent, drawn into the hypnotic, humorous worlds behind the square-shaped apps. My battery was nearly dead, my laptop was back in Virginia, and I smiled calmly at the thought of being unplugged. Every few minutes, another phone would lose service and its owner would join the growing conversation.
A grocery trip and a boat ride later, we were floating up to the cabin in the suddenly-pouring rain. Two people jumped out of the boat and secured it to the dock with ropes, and the five of us ferried in backpacks, hiking boots, and cases of beer. When we were done, I walked back outside to look at where I would be living for a week. It was exactly as Robby had described. Wide planks of dark brown pinewood formed the walls of the cabin, and a green roof the color of aged copper stood in a high triangle. Simple, unadorned windows lined the sides of every wall, and a small deck wrapped around a corner. The entire thing was hidden shyly behind pine trees and blueberry bushes.
“What do you think?” Robby asked when I went back inside.
I smiled and said, “This place is perfect.”
And so began the delightful withdrawal from civilization. This particular group, excluding myself, was made up of video game enthusiasts. Gaming is used to bond and entertain, but also to fill the time in a way similar to what my iPhone had become. With zero access to anything electronic, the hours were filled with cooking, fishing, boat rides, and swinging in hammocks. It wasn’t until the fourth day there that I realized how much my lack of a cell phone had impacted me. It was the first time since our arrival that the weather had been anything but clear and sunny, and someone dusted off the board game “Risk.” I had never played Risk due to a deep and genuine loathing for strategic board games. I was handed dozens of tiny red pieces and told to learn as we went.
Playing a board game on a rainy day is an instance where I may frequently check out of the game and into my Twitter account, but I was left with no other option but fully engaging. I loved the game and almost won. Each person spent the whole time laughing and strategizing and pleading and making bets, as opposed to wasting significant chunks of attention on cell phone screens.
Conversations throughout that week were more meaningful, not split between a person and a device. With no alternative for distraction, we learned to really listen to each other, and creative outdoor activities replaced what would certainly be a Netflix binge for some. In a way, it was heartbreaking to see how different things could be without the widespread addiction to technology. It does not take a genius to distinguish between cyberspace and real life, but I required a brief withdrawal to observe the sheer power that my phone has over me.
Since that week of quiet water and leaping fish, stunning sunsets and group cooking efforts, I have tried to be less attached to my phone. My goal is to only go to it when I truly need to communicate with another person. When I find my eyes roaming automatically toward it, I try to catch myself. I breathe and picture a birch tree surrounded by blueberry bushes. It’s not always successful. It’s tough when I’m alone or when others around me are absorbed in screens of their own. However, my prayer is that people will collectively rediscover the value of human interaction, the value of silence, even boredom. Flicking off the screens gives me an incentive and venue for reflection, creativity, and friendship building. With this in mind, I pull on my Long Lake t-shirt and leave the phone at home.
Written by Hannah Bridges