Without Technology

Crisis! I'm traveling on Monday. My Kindle's screen broke and the replacement is coming on Tuesday. Gall darn nabbit!

The Kindle is one of the best devices I've ever had for traveling, especially in light of how I rarely pack any other pieces of technology. Using the built-in web browser, I can look at basic web content, check definitions and articles, and keep up with my email. I have the one with 3G, so I can do this even on a moving train, which is just about as close to the future as I dare to go before I back away in fear of losing my nose.

But now I don't have it. In some ways, it's a liberation. I'm still taking novels and books with me, but the only pieces of technology I'm taking are my terrible cell phone (for emergency contact) and my MP3 player (for sanity and noise pollution blockage - my last trip involved a man in the seat next to me blaring his music far past his earbuds' threshold). I won't have any devices that can connect to the Internet.

On one hand, the net is a useful resource for finding destinations and helping me locate things, which would be helpful considering I'm going alone. And the option of having it in case of emergency is appealing. On the other hand, it's a fantastic distraction and an addiction. Paper novels seem a little less attention-greedy and at the very least, a little more manageable than a full blown piece of TechnoFuture. But they're just as entertaining on the train, which is why I'm packing them. I get why people prefer paper books over the electronic variant; I still haven't converted entirely.

The benefits of taking cheap novels is pretty drastic, the more I think about it. The freedom of not having an expensive gadget with me outweighs the freedom to pick from hundreds of books and the ability to buy plenty more. I travel light, as my minimalist tendencies would suggest, and try to pack as much as I can into a single backpack. While this limits my paper book inclusions to three paperbacks, it also makes each item I have with me that much more disposable and less important, freeing me up to enjoy the trip I am on without being burdened by what I have in an obligation to keep it safe.

Why am I sharing this? Well, traveling is a great way to get a minimalist perspective on things - if you're hitting the town with your stuff in tow, it makes sense to strip away what's unnecessary and travel with only what you need. You learn to take things as they come, stop trying to plan for every "what if" and just roll with the punches. And if you're like me, you get a ton of paper cuts from the tourist maps and have to buy a large wad of finger-sized bandages. I'm not sure why, and I can't predict it, but that's life.

But in addition, everything I've already said applies to technology as a whole, for all walks of life. In terms of eReaders, I eagerly look forward to the days when they are a simple commodity, when you can buy one for $30 or less and they're sold in every random pharmacy on the street corner. But until then, their lack of ubiquity is a slight drawback. The valuable aspect is a downfall in comparison to the throwaway, disposable nature of a $1 paperback from the used bookstore I live next to.

Sometimes, technology is great, and sometimes it can hold us back. I know, kind of an obvious thesis statement, but not every one of my epiphanies can be humdingers.

(For the literary curious, the book selections I'm taking with me are Cryptonomicon, Rabbit, Run and Lolita. I intend to post a few blogs about books when I get back from my trip, so stay tuned.)

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