On Media Withdrawal

I spent the better part of last week on a small island in the middle of a lake in Maine. No electricity, no running water, no phone service (cellular or landline) and no contact with the outside world. It took a half hour by boat to reach anything remotely resembling civilization. Under a clear night sky, stargazing unimpeded by lights or air pollution, I thought deeply about what Jeff Einstein has been talking about for several months - media addiction.

My first week away since starting Underscore was at first marred by what Einstein might call symptoms of withdrawal. On Monday, I felt out of touch and disconnected from what was going on at the office. I even took a boat to the mainland and tried to take a conference call in the late morning. Even in the middle of town in this isolated area of Maine, cellular service was iffy at best. I was able to talk for only about five minutes before my signal was interrupted, my phone showed no signal whatsoever, and I couldn't get back on the line.



When my signal went out, I was standing outside a small Internet café. It was run by the local ISP, and charged $10 an hour to connect at "high speed" - throughput was about a tenth of what I was used to with my cable modem in Manhattan. I asked the guy behind the counter how business was. Evidently, it wasn't very good. The ISP's customer base consisted mostly of students at the local community college and very few of the townspeople seemed interested in DSL.

In this tiny place, people are more likely to get their news from the daily newspaper in Bangor, not from news Web sites or blogs. Most purchasing of second-hand goods is done through classified ads in the paper or live auctions, not through eBay. You don't see many Web addresses on local ads or people carrying mobile phones. Perhaps this was a good place to take a vacation...

After spending two hours at the Internet café in town, I took a boat back to the island where I met up with some friends for a fishing expedition. Two smallmouth bass and a pickerel later, I started to feel a nagging anxiety and checked my mobile phone. No bars, no signal, no reassuring flashing green light. For kicks, I checked to see whether the Web browser worked. No dice.

That nagging anxiety came from a habit of constantly being connected to media in one form or another. Had our boat sprung a leak out there in the middle of the lake and sunk, it's highly unlikely that anyone would have known until we had been missing for a couple of days. The only medium I was enjoying at that time was the spoken word - the banter back and forth between the other guys on the boat about who was going to land the biggest fish of the day.

By Wednesday, the nagging feeling was all but gone. I didn't know what was going on in Iraq or what the latest opinion polls said about the election. I cared less about what Instapundit was posting about the United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal than I cared about what I was going to cook over the fire that night. The mere idea of talking heads barking the news at me in digestible, 20-second chunks seemed almost offensive.

That night, I clambered out onto a flat rock jutting out from the edge of the island and stared at the clear night sky, taking in the stars and taking note of stars I'd never seen before. Just then, a thought occurred to me - one that you hear emanating from the mouths of addicts so often that it has become a cliché: I can stop whenever I want to.

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