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Digital Detox and River Rafting

Today's Seattle Times included an article in the Northwest Travel section from an author voluntarily seeking refuge from the digitally connected world many of us have created for ourselves. Our addiction to video display terminals is real, and like alcohol, nicotine and high fructose syrup, it needs to be moderated. Or, as mom liked to say, we "are cruising for a bruising."

I am as guilty as anyone in our brave new electronic world of being enthralled by all of my digital devices. I have a desktop computer, a laptop and an iPhone. I am not going to count the desktops languishing in my basement. Recently, I came up with a rationalization to purchase an iPad, but, so far, I have refrained from opening my wallet. I utilize all of these devices every day.

The newspaper continues to be delivered by a 'paperboy' (actually a middle-aged guy in a Mazda) but, I have to admit, with each passing day, newspaper delivery and newspaper reading is feeling more and more like the Pony Express or telegraph lines. I will also admit to being frustrated when the paper arrives late, or not at all, due to inclement weather or avalanches on the mountain passes. Sometimes when it does arrive, I find it quaint that 'late-breaking' news, such as the Washington Huskies' victory over Oregon in the Pac 10 tourney late on a Thursday evening, is omitted because the result was too late for the paper's printed edition.

It is no longer just the Age of Information. It is the Age of Instant Information.

However, I am not going to vilify our digitized umbilical cord to our world, and The World's, events. Instant communication and the constant flow of information is both boon and bane to our existence, and like all of the other addictive behaviors and substances in our daily lives, we need to find a balance. So, that's it. That is my revelation. It is no more earth-shattering than the acknowledgement that the only way you are going to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more.

I feel I am lucky in regards to dealing with the influence video display terminals have over my life. I imagine I am a super user in relation to the rest of humanity. While at home, I am never far from my connection to the online universe. Part of it is business-related but, admittedly, I find limitless means of entertainment and educational moments online. I read papers, magazines and books, yet I usually feel 'engaged' online. And that energizes me.

But I am lucky because, due to my occupation --- outfitting and guiding river trips --- a good percentage of my life is spent outdoors and on the water which, so far, is not a particularly optimum environment for microprocessors and WiFi is not yet prevalent in the wilderness. River trips, therefore, are ideal vacations for digital detoxification. The author in the Seattle Times article was reporting on a Chicago hotel which advertised the fact that they would 'confiscate' your digital devices on arrival and guide you through your time severed from the never-ending stream of useful, as well as banal, information.

In my mind, a river trip is a far better means, and more pure method, of removing yourself from the incessant barrage of news, whimsy, sales pitches and entertainment. Bill McKibben wrote a book titled "The Age of Missing Information" comparing 24 hours of watching every cable channel available at the time with 24 hours on a mountaintop in the Adirondacks. This was in 1992, well before broadband and satellites brought the internet torrent into our every waking moment.

I don't remember his specific conclusion, though I am confident the gist was that intrinsic value you derive from a day of observing nature is just as valuable as all of the data you might gather from watching untold hours of television. A river rafting trip, by its very nature --- outdoors, under the stars, untethered from the internet --- provides a clean, clear, complete digital break. The only mental stimulation is the white water challenge, the face-to-face social interaction, contemplating your navel and absorbing the wonders of the natural world.

Checking into a swanky, downtown hotel stripped of your electronic gadgets might be an urbanite's idea of getting away from it all, but it pales in comparison to launching onto a river for three days (Good), five days (Better) or a month (Best).

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