Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Going Off the Grid

Tomorrow, I am going off the grid for the first time in a long time.  No matter where I've been in the world over the last several years, I've generally had easy access to the internet.  In fact, in the aftermath of 9-11, I was emailing people from China for a friend in DC to give updates on her wedding plans because cell phone and internet access were hard there for a while.  

But I'm in that cusp generation who grew up without being constantly wired.  I first used email between college and law school.  I got my first cell phone when I moved to LA after law school (because who could be in LA without a cell phone).

Perhaps because of that, I tend not to be a first adopter on gadgets.  It took me a while to see the logic of the ipod, and now I can't imagine taking my daily walks without my books on tape on it (I just loaded up for the trip on some new not-so-intellectual novels).  I finally got a kindle a few weeks ago and I find myself reading more again because I can have so many different kinds of books with me in my purse for those five minute gaps that are too short for pulling out my computer.

As an environmentalist, I struggle with my personal relationship to technology.  On the one hand, I push people to use it and stop sending those brochures and reprints.  It seems like the extra energy used by people getting these things electronically is likely less wasteful than the trees cut down for unsolicited announcements of lectures and books that often aren't in an area that I write or teach in.  Or at a simpler level, I urge people to use that double-side printing technology that our big multi-function machines have.  And constructive technology has been a key part of my work for some time.  One of my current research projects on suburbs and climate change is full of examples of cities making technological transitions that use less energy and pay back pretty quickly.

On the other hand, I sometimes fear that my email account filling at a ridiculous rate (sometimes with the emails to follow-up on the emails that I have not yet replied to because I get 100s behind whenever I stop to write) and the constant bombardment makes it much harder for me to carve out the quiet time to actually think.  I am excited by the new energy technologies that are crtiical to our making a needed transition even as I fear the intensive scientific focusing on reversing climate change through geoengineering without any clear governance structure.

And so as I ambivalently mull, I'll head off to Northern Minnesota for a weekend without cell phone reception or my email, but with my ipod and kindle in tow.  It feels a little different than when I was a kid sitting at the top of mountains in Colorado feeling a deep sense of peace and sprituality as I took in the beauty around me, but I know I'll still marvel at the majesty of nature even as I wind down at night perhaps reading one of the teen vampire books I've checked out from the public library which appeared on my kindle thirty seconds later.  

Hari Osofsky

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