Lessons from my week unplugged*

Most people who know me know I was a pretty hardcore crackberry addict. Three years on, I’ve graduated to an iphone. Still  addicted.


Me learning to surf in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Last week I went on vacation to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, home of the original type of surfers.

When I got on the airplane here in Toronto, I turned ye olde iphone to airplane mode. I cut the umbilical cord. Good bye. No incoming anything.

I’ll confess (this explains the * in the headline) before  people call me on it — that I did check personal email twice buying a card from reception and using the dial-up connections in the resort internet room. (Afterall, I did have to talk to my mother who was holding the fort back home). But other than that, I was unplugged.

Strangely,  many people didn’t think I could or would cut the cord. When I got home, I had quite a few emails from people at work either assuming I’d left it on or sending test emails to see if I’d actually unplugged.

And let me tell you — it was like a time warp… back to 1995. I mean, I talked to people face to face . . . and they talked back!

Huh. Interesting.

The whole trip started with crowd-sourcing. I picked the trip based on online reviews. First I narrowed to a handful of resorts, and then I picked the Barcelo Langosta based on the mostly positive reviews on tripadvisor.com.

Tripadvisor.com isn’t fool-proof. Some people have bad experiences, some are just party poopers, and sometimes I’m convinced people are writing about myths that have developed at their local hotel.

I had no idea about the earthquake in Chile (or concerns about a tsunami), had no idea what happened with our budget. I was in a news blackout.

I took the time away from my iphone  to read something I should have long ago (am actually a bit embarrassed I hadn’t already) Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

Most people unplug when they go away — the only people I saw at the resort with a smart phone were Costa Ricans, there for the weekend.

While I used crowd-sourcing to pick the place, the most difficult part of turning my iphone to airplane mode was that I was suddenly cut off from that same crowd-sourcing. How was I expected to navigate the hotel waters? How would I know which day trip to pick? Whether they’d put up a fuss if we wanted to change our room? Had anyone crossed the river to the beach on the other side?

The day after we got there, it was the Canada vs. U.S. gold medal Olympic hockey game. I overheard some other Canadians talk about it, and chimed in with questions — when was the game and could we actually watch it?

Canada vs. US gold medal Olympics game

Canadians (and one American) convene on the hotel lobby bar to watch the game.

I found out where and when, and figured I’d be one of a handful of die-hards. Um, ya. Not so much.

Exhibit A for old-school crowd-sourcing (aka talking to people) working. (see picture at right).

As soon as we met people at the resort we were asking questions — had you been to the volcano? Was it worth the long day? What about the trip to Nicaragua? Was that one fun? Did you see many animals in Paolo Verde? We’d ask people at dinner, at the lobby bar, on other trips we were on. We were looking for suggestions. It meant, sadly, that that was all you could really talk to strangers about — if we were only going to have a conversation for two minutes, I had to be sure to pump them for all the information I could in that two minutes.

At the airport on the way home, everyone was trading stories — one group talked about a man in a wheelchair who was left out in the sun and got third degree burns. Others talked about an ATV accident that forced some Canadians to go home early.

This is all I thought: Right and Gordon Lightfoot is dead, right? Um, well no. But everyone thought so for a while there.

I’m told this is generational. Maybe … but I just hadn’t needed to rely on talking to people to get feedback on something in well … a few years. So in some ways talking to people worked: lots of people showed up to the hockey game. But I gotta say word of mouth isn’t great for reliability — when you’ve only asked two or three people, one party pooper and the results are swayed significantly.

After seven days unplugged, I missed the interaction.

I wanted to set up a message board at the hotel. I didn’t want my iphone, but I wanted a way to talk to everyone at the resort. Under the heading: Volcano — people could post sticky notes about whether it was good or not. Under taxi names/numbers of good ones. We needed a way to go beyond the one-to-one interactions. A way of people coming in late, or getting up early, to hear what the others had said … we needed a hyper-local message board. And it could have been ~ gasp ~ just a cork board.

So under “Costa Rica Roots tour” I’d put “Best trip ever.”  Under snorkelling: Great puffer fish, watch for the nasty floating things that sting you. Under surfing I’d say: Best lesson from Marina at the Bikini Shop.

Under theme for the week? Retro, dude.


3 responses to “Lessons from my week unplugged*

  1. Glad to hear you had a great trip, Marissa. And glad to hear you managed to unplug for the week as well. It’s not easy to do. I was on holiday for just four days last week, but still had my crackberry everywhere I went, snapping photos, live-tweeting some adventures, posting Twitpics.
    The horror.
    Still, it’s interesting to see how much we rely on this form of interaction INSTEAD of actually talking face-to-face (and very sad). Still, I think it must be done.
    Every year I go away for a week where I am unplugged (and I run for the Internet cafe at the end of the week), and I look forward to that this year. I just wonder if I will be able to truly unplug, or if the ease of the crackberry will prove to be too much.

  2. Interesting post.
    Admittedly I have less to unplug from when I vacation (hard to miss a cellphone you don’t have).

    Curious– did you enjoy being unplugged? I notice your positive and other comments, but I couldn’t tell from the post itself.

  3. Hi Sarah & Hugo

    Thanks for the comments.
    Sarah: my suggestion is if you take your crackberry (I couldn’t leave my iphone at home) find a way of detaching your work email at least. That’s the key!
    Hugo: Good question. I think I enjoyed being away from email, particularly the enormous number of work emails but I didn’t really enjoy being away from facebook, twitter… well the internet in general, especially because I couldn’t search for things.

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