Even People Who Love Computers

I am not outdoorsy. Don’t get me wrong, I like the outdoors. I see a river and appreciate its rivery-ness. Sometimes I say sentences like, “Wow. Aren’t trees something? They are so big and full of leaves!” And I feel very profound about it. I often exercise the common white person trope of making other people feel bad about not going outside. (“It’s such a beautiful day! What are you doing cooped up in this house when you could be out there in the sun?”)

But I am still not outdoorsy the way the people I went to college with were outdoorsy. I have never, for example, been backpacking. I can’t identify animal tracks in the woods. I have never spent triple digits at REI, and honestly, shopping there bores me. I have no shirts or underpants that could be described as “quick dry,” no socks that could be described as “ultra thin smart wool,” and not a single pair of pants that zip off into shorts. 

Regardless, for Christmas this year I asked for a nice backpacking tent. On camping trips with outdoorsy people (see previous paragraph), I had been very impressed by how lightweight and waterproof their tents were. I thought that in some universe, someday, I might want to go camping without a certifiably outdoorsy person, and it would be cool to have a tent that didn’t weigh 40 pounds, or require a small army of men to assemble. I got the tent from my parents, thanked them profusely, and then threw the thing in the closet in my room, where it promptly began its long life of gathering dust.

Then last week, it was spring break at school. My original spring break plans had fallen through, and while staying in New Orleans for the week did seem temptingly inexpensive and easy, I thought to myself, “It might be a good idea to go camping.” I did a lot of Google searching about what you are supposed to bring camping, and even watched a tutorial video on how to pack a cooler, and then on Thursday, grabbed my friend Ned, and drove to the Bogue Chitto Water Park. (It’s really just a camp ground by a river, I swear. I know what camping is!)

We drove right up to the camp site. You didn’t have to hike in or canoe to it or anything. We hitched the tent with minimal fuss, and kept most of the stuff that could have gotten eaten by wild hogs in the back seat of the car. There was a bathroom at the camp site with toilets that flushed, and toilet paper. There was cell phone reception. Many of the sites had big plugs for your hypothetical RVs, and running water spigots. This is all my way of saying that we were not, by any stretch of the imagination, really roughing it. 

But so what?

I love my computer. I sit at it whenever I get the chance. When I am not sitting at it, I am thinking about sitting at it. I love putting things on Facebook, I love scrolling through Tumblr, I love admiring people who are great at Twitter, I love posting things on my blog. This is all stuff I hate that I love, but it’s stuff that I love. I get physically aroused when my phone clinks and tells me I have an e-mail. The sound of fingers typing on a keyboard sends pleasurable chills down my back. 

I know, in theory, that this is bad. There are all these studies about being addicted to the computer, and about how much spending time at the computer actually makes you an overall sadder person. Here’s some statistics from one:

For every minute we spend on the internet, we lose 0.05 minutes of socialising with the people we know and love. That may not sound like a lot, but spread out over an hour and it becomes three minutes lost – the equivalent of 72 minutes per day, or 18 days a year. We lose 0.12 minutes of sleep for each minute spent online – that’s 43 days a year.

But the work I do and the world I live in tells me I should spend more time on the computer: have more “followers” and more “likes” and more “friends.” There is this constant voice in my head saying, “Advertise your success more. You need validation!” Sometimes I just sit online refreshing my e-mail inbox repeatedly, waiting for someone to digitally tell me I am good.

Being not actually outdoorsy means that sometimes I feel inadequate about camping. I am worried people will think I’m “not really camping,” because I brought paper plates or because my sleeping bag is more like a comforter with a string around it. But even people who love their computers need to go camping. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Sometimes it’s just necessary to disrupt the monotony of your digital routines and fixations.

When we got to Bogue Chitto, I put my phone on airplane mode and vowed to leave it in the car. Ned brought a guitar and we played music by a fire that employed at least one Duraflame log. We went on “hikes” in the “woods” that were 0.75 miles long, and read The New Yorker on towels by the river. When there was nothing to do, you had to just kind of sit and be with the quiet. You had to listen to birds or notice the way the light reflected off the trees. 

There was one moment of deep, deep calm during which I thought maybe I should turn on my phone and just check and see if any emergency e-mails had come. But then I accidentally walked into a tree, which was a perfect reminder that what I needed to do right then was just be there. 

And then two days later, we came back from Bogue Chitto. Nothing had fallen apart. No one had even noticed we’d left! There were e-mails to check and validation to seek, and all that rhythm came back, the way it does. But for a moment, there had been no Internet, as far as I was concerned. There had been just dirt, water, and fire. (And my car, and processed bread, and all the other modern luxuries that this particular camping trip afforded.) But that had been plenty.