Getting lost is now a luxury. In this age of GPS, tracking devices that enable tech companies to follow our every move (see Technology), and almost ubiquitous internet connectivity, it’s truly a rare moment when you find yourself asking, “Where the heck am I?” I had one of those of moments last week while on vacation with my in-laws in rural upstate New York. Using the Wi-Fi in my Airbnb, I’d programmed my smartphone to direct me to a secluded lake some 10 miles away. Google Maps got me there, but after splashing around with my kids, I realized I had no cell reception. Which meant I didn’t know how to get home, because I’d blindly followed my phone on the way out, ignoring most landmarks. With the kids’ dinnertime approaching, my wife and I initially panicked, then pointed our car in a direction that looked vaguely familiar and set off. With no digital assistant to guide us, we became more aware of our surroundings, noticing cute hamlets, farm stands, and rickety barns that we’d previously sped past. Soon, we arrived back at our house, feeling pathetically proud that we’d survived the 10-mile journey without our phones.
There were other glorious moments of digital disconnection. Cell service often disappeared while we were out hiking in the woods or lounging by the side of a tree-fringed stream, so I didn’t get the buzzing breaking-news alerts—Manafort Convicted! Cohen Pleads Guilty!—that would have made me look away from my kids enjoying the great outdoors. And my even more tech-dependent in-laws, who have been known to iMessage each other while sitting on the same couch, also had to put down their devices. Rather than Google whether the bird that just flapped past was an egret or a heron, they simply had to enjoy it. Of course, now that the summer vacation is over, we’re all once again fully immersed in the digital world. So if you’ll excuse me, my phone just pinged with some breaking news.