When I told my friends I was going camping, the most common reaction was bafflement. It was as if I had warned them that I was about to pupate.
I was actually surprised by the news myself. When I try to remember the events that led to my agreeing to camp out, it's all echoes and shadows. I generally consider soft, insect-free beds to be one of the chief virtues of an industrialized society, just above a lowered infant mortality rate.
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Nonetheless, my girlfriend and I shoved as many artifacts of civilization as we could into the back of the Corolla and headed up the coast. Luckily for me, we had picked a beginner's campsite, the kind that you'd get if LeapFrog Enterprises
landed a state park contract. Picnic table, enclosed fire pit, convenient parking mere feet from the camping space, that sort of thing.
I was feeling pretty optimistic when I noticed a flier notifying us of ... something about the water. I still don't know exactly what it was trying to say; it seemed to be simultaneously trying to warn and reassure us.
Roughly paraphrased, it went like this:
WARNING: The water at this campsite does not meet safety standards for drinking. Nonetheless, it is safe to drink, unless you are the sort of person who should not be drinking unsafe water. We hope to upgrade our equipment in the near future to make this water, which is safe to drink, safe to drink. In the meantime, it is not necessary to boil this unsafe water before drinking it.
My compromise was to drink the water mainly in the form of whiskey toddies.
As surprised as I was to find myself camping, I was even more surprised to find myself enjoying it. In the decade or so since I was last dragged into the woods, technology has made camping much more pleasant, which is to say much less like camping. An inflatable mattress elevated me above the hard, life-sapping ground, some weird sort of drugstore napalm made lighting fires easier than putting them out, and one can never underestimate the soothing power of a Nintendo DS Lite when stuck nearly two miles from the nearest human settlement.
The experience was refreshing and enlivening. Most people would credit this to the fresh air or the softly swaying greenery or perhaps the thug-like chipmunks that organized tactical assaults on our marshmallows. You know, nature. I don't think that was it, though.
The real pleasure was something I'm going to call "data isolation." Entertainment and information used to be something you would seek out, library card or remote control in hand. We were, as it were, hunters and gatherers of data. Nowadays, though, data is something that seeps into my home from a dozen sources. E-mail and RSS feeds line up like Soviet-era bread-seekers, patiently awaiting my attention. TV shows and movies install themselves on hard drives or waft in with the daily mail.
As a result, I've become an immoderate consumer of information. I watch television while browsing the web. I've been known to check my e-mail while playing World of Warcraft. Not just during the long flights from one area to another -- I actually read my mail in battle
, while waiting for the 10-second cool-down on my Stormstrike power. I'm at the center of a data glut.
So yeah, I brought a videogame with me to the woods, but at least when I played it I was only playing that specific game
. When I read a book, I was reading that particular book.
I was arguably closer to roughing it in terms of entertainment than I was in terms of physical comforts.
I'm trying to figure out how to get that same sense of data isolation without having to sleep near insects. Unplugging the modem one day a week would be a start, but it wouldn't affect the data that's already made its way into my home. Maybe I could rig up all my electronics to one circuit for easy shutdown. I can probably find a way to do it on the web, assuming I don't get distracted.
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Born helpless, nude and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg eventually overcame these handicaps to reassure his guildmates that he doesn't do the e-mail thing during raids. Well, at least not during boss fights.
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