Imagine there’s no signal…

…it’s easy if you try/no cell phones ringing/only the land line. Imagine all the people/ talking face to face….

Do Wi-Fi routers bring on headaches and insomnia? Do cell phones cause ear cancer? Maybe. You can find studies proving these technologies harmless, and studies proving they’re killing you while you sleep. But it seems to me that the physical-danger controversy (like the presidential election, like public fights over any issue touching sex) is a distraction. As usual, there’s a far more audacious heist in progress, right beneath our noses.

What we’re losing is the pleasure of each other’s company.

I sort of knew this before spending two months in a village with no cell signal, and no wireless Internet in the areas I frequented. Now I know it in my cells.

Before leaving for Earthaven, I thought I had a problem: I checked my email umpteen times a day, in the vague hope that something exciting had happened. I thrilled to the trill of an incoming text message (even as I suffered mild heart palpitations in the rare event of an incoming phone call). Like the babes in The Matrix, I was hooked to a network sucking my life force – my consciousness, my attention – out of the here-now. Why was I so neurotic? Who couldn’t I just stop?

Johann Hari, author of a glorious book on the drug war called Chasing the Scream, has said that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection. This sounds true to me. The trouble is that you can’t connect by yourself. You need people to connect with. I might choose to chuck my phone in a lake – but so long as my fellowbeings are glued to their screens, I’ll remain starved for connection.

At Earthaven, I received a reprieve from the tyranny of the screen. So much flourished in its (relative) absence: campfires with singing, drumming, strumming; parlor games like Adverb and Poop Smoothie; rounds of Never Have I Ever; evening-long conversational odysseys; a fledgling game called Gift Economy; story after story after story.

We are told that to save the Earth (i.e., our asses), we must conserve. Cut back on this, sacrifice that. Make ourselves small. (Ever tried to get healthy by dieting? Yeah, how’d that go?) But what if the opposite of extraction is not conservation, but connection? What if we exploit, maim, kill, because we’re desperately malnourished? Starved for touch? Wild with thwarted desire to interweave? What if regenerating our life-web is beautifully consonant with, one and the same as, building a scrumptiously pleasurable, deeply connective everyday?

We ravage not because we’re evil, or sinful, or lacking in discipline. We ravage because we’re starving. Socially, most of all.

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