I’m no one to pass judgment. In my seven football seasons abroad, I’ve only missed a few LSU games, either due to traveling on the day or monumental internet collapses. More or less, I visit ESPN.com daily, and I read at least one piece a tabloid fluff a week, either pulled in by the promise of juicy shots of a hot celebrity or news about an upcoming film. When I’m feeling socially responsible, I delve into a few political articles. I keep up with my Words with Friends games, check Facebook’s latest, and post weekly blogs (as you already know). I’m constantly on travel websites, reading and researching for articles, and on good weeks, I spend around 20 hours in front of the screen writing.
So, I’ll do my best to simply make observations. The first one I’ll make is that this hotel is my fucking house, and if I’m going to subject myself to this obsessive online opulence, there is nowhere else for me to do it. I’m not on vacation here, not on a weekend or year away, and most of the time, I’m not playing a damned game. As a writer, one might even defend Words with Friends, an admitted weakness, as a skill-builder. Most of the time, however, I’m doing some sort of work, or at least distracted myself from doing it. Perhaps that’s why I give myself a little bit longer leash, or perhaps it’s simply because I want to stay online, too.
When I began this blog entry, there were six hotel guests that I could see, and five of them were on some sort of portable device, only two of them were speaking, and the one person not using their own laptop, iProduct, or WiFi wizardry was looking at someone else’s. Earth Lodge has one of the best views I’ve ever seen. People come here specifically to enjoy it. Sure, there are a few hiking trails, a decent restaurant (great dinner chef), a well-stocked bar, and a set of cornhole boards out front, but these are all, one assumes, a result of people coming primarily to see, to sit and enjoy a one of the country’s great vistas. It’s weird that no one is looking.
Daily, I fight the internet here, a system run off of cellular service, impossibly slow for today’s standards and constantly on the fritz, in need of rebooting, unplugging, and always a reliable source for that circle of death in the middle of the screen signifying the computer is “working” but getting nothing done. In the middle of this small village in the Guatemalan mountains, amongst 400 avocado trees, and with a volcano spitting out smoke not forty kilometers away, one of the five most frequent questions I’m asked is if the WiFi is working. Hell, there is even a TV with a thousand or so films and shows for us to choose from, but I rarely see anyone boob-tubing it anymore. We—the staff, the guests—all know it’s shit, but we keep trying.
In past blogs, I’ve admitted my own dependence on www-world—both at work and at home. I can readily acknowledge so much good, the more regular long distance contact for much less cost, the ability to keep abreast of local and world news from Thailand to Timbuktu, the chance to enhance the world to the wonders of Tiger football via pirated live streaming. My new career choice, travel writing, is on the endangered list save the online publications. I’m even happy to report that the computer-bound guest next to me is actually a travel writer as well, which gives him a viable excuse, and that one of the aforementioned devices is a Kindle, what once would have been a perfectly acceptable book. But, Jesus Christ, this is depressing.
It’s one thing for a teenager to spend hours searching for porn, for gamers to lock themselves in dark, dingy apartments for hours and days at a time, wiling away all their free time like techno-vampires. It’s one thing to nine-to-five it and get home ready for a little mindlessness, flip on the computer the way we used to TVs, and settle in for a few waning hours with DrawSomething, social networking, or YouTube! entertainment. It’s one thing to check your personal email a couple times a day…maybe. It’s an atrocity that we, the travelers of the world, the people of Earth Lodge, the former jugglers and card sharks of the backpacker trail, have turned away from one another to turn on our portable distractions, detractions to what we’ve set out to do: experience a place.
I wish I could conceive of a happy ending to leave you with. Maybe we all should just get off the computer and have a conversation with someone, get out of touch with who we are.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.