Disconnecting to reconnect: technology on the river

by | September 21, 2018

We all know how it feels when we try to have a conversation and it’s interrupted by the familiar ding of an incoming text message. Or when we are in class / at the movies / falling asleep / in a work flow / driving / exercising / eating dinner / getting romantic / etc. and someone’s phone interjects with a little reminder, alert, alarm, or otherwise “urgent” communication from the world beyond. It usually doesn’t feel very good when someone you love breaks eye contact with you to sneak a glance at their screen – their distraction is perhaps indicative of secret or unconscious priorities. Our disappointment when a device distracts attention away from real-time human interaction is legitimate and valid, even though we all– with very few exceptions – are guilty of allowing technology to diminish, compromise, or completely eclipse the increasingly elusive focused human conversation.  If we aren’t exceedingly careful, we might allow technology to direct and distract us away from our responsibilities, from books, and from our daydreams.

To be clear: I’m writing this on a laptop, on a Paco Pad on my buddy’s floor a few hours north of home. And because I don’t have WiFi here, my phone is by my side, still glowing from freshly-checked email and social media and news. We rely on technology in most moments of our modern lives, we celebrate and revere it, we look forward to what it will do with and for us in the future. I am in no way meaning to disparage the science and brilliance behind super-streamlined contemporary communication: we live in remarkable times. As with most things that cause cultural distress, it’s the human factorthat is concerning: how we as individuals and as societies choose to employ the technology; to what extent we allow it to permeate the corners of our existence; and whom and what we allow it to interrupt or redirect.

Now consider technology in the context of a river trip.

Why do people escape to rivers? Chances are it’s to feel the power of natural forces, to share meaningful moments with family or loved ones, to revel in the beauty of wild places, or to inject a dose of whitewater and adrenaline into our sometimes-stagnant lives.

Sure, technology has a place on the river. We use phones and radios to coordinate logistics, provide an extra measure of safety, and to take the photos that will preserve these memories indefinitely. But let’s return to the reasons why we go on river trips:

How can whatever’s on your screen compete with the beauty of a wild river corridor? Put it down and look up in all directions. Listen to the sounds all around you. Truly feel the sun and water on your skin. Acknowledge what’s real and immediate.

Why would you allow your phone to compromise the fleeting moments of togetherness with your family or friends?  Stay focused: be genuinely present with your people.  Observe their smiles, offer them encouragement if they’re nervous, thank them for sharing the river with you. Ask questions of your guide, and even laugh at their jokes if you’re feeling generous.

There’s nothing that compares to the immediacy of running whitewater.When you are lined up on the tongue of a big rapid, everything else falls away. The only thing that matters is the now, your group’s cohesion as a paddle crew, and your ability to stay focused when air and water and rocks all conspire together toward chaos.

The selfies, the text messages, the Instagram updates, and the news beyond the canyon walls lose all significance when we are truly present on the river. There’s no time for distraction. And, furthermore, why would you ever hope to distract yourself from the unparalleled joy of sharing rivers with people you love?

If you crave true disconnection, we recommend you join us on the Lochsa River this spring. No cell service, no neon signs, all wilderness and whitewater.