Sitting at a café in San Diego, slowly, carefully touching my lips to the rich espresso macchiatto every few minutes, I had no book, magazine or screen to demand my attention. I just sat, sipped, watched and thought ‘this is okay’. Dare I say good? A few hours later as I ate a grilled chicken gruyère panini on sourdough under a café umbrella, I sat, ate, watched and thought. This simple ritual brought back sweet memories of doing the same thing – sit, sip (or eat), watch and think – at cafés and establishments in Europe where sitting alone, not intentionally engaging with someone else in person or on the phone or on a screen is completely appropriate and acceptable (though becoming less common). I often wonder why we are drawn to disengage with our surroundings when we have a moment’s pause. Perhaps it’s our new, conditioned default setting. Perhaps we don’t know how to engage our minds without assistance. I should read facebook posts so I have something to think about while I’m sitting here. In fact, we teach our children this from an early age. It’s not okay to just sit, watch and think.
There is a time and place for everything, and I think traveling offers a prime opportunity to practice living unwired and unfettered. It is a good example for our children. Nancy Colier recently wrote about interaction between children, parents and smartphones. Though lengthy, I think this quote from the article is worth posting in its entirety:
“. . .When we spend our time continually interacting with technology in the company of our children, we are expressing some very destructive themes. First, we are saying, I am more interested in what’s going on in this game than I am with you. Second, we are saying that playing games, texting and the rest of it is a valuable way to spend our short time on this planet. And third (and most dangerous), when we choose our devices over our children (which is how a young mind understands mommy or daddy always on technology) we are saying that you, my child, are not that important. You are not worthy of my attention. This is the message from which there is no turning back. Once experienced by the child, we will never again have a relationship with our child that is free from this hurt.”
Traveling is an opportunity to expand our experiences with our children and teach them how to interact with unfamiliar surroundings, not mentally escape them. Is playing a game more important than meeting and interacting with real, present people created in God’s image? Notice creation when you travel and praise God for an aspect of creation you hadn’t experienced before, from the mountains rising above the horizon to the smallest insect that can’t be found in your neighborhood. Share that with your children. We need to care enough about our kids to not be constantly wired – and show them how they can also be content to not be wired.
I have a very sweet memory of sitting alone in a café in a town square in Ohrid, Macedonia. It was the summer of 2005. I did not travel with a cell phone or a laptop. I didn’t even travel with a book to read. When I partook of my coffee, I just sat, watched, sipped and thought. I marveled. There is a lot to marvel at in Lake Ohrid (pictures posted below). Macedonia and Ohrid in particular is remarkably accessible and remarkably under-touristed. But the beauty of the architecture on the shores of an emerald lake at the foot of mountains is incredible. And the people were some of the most hospitable I have met in my travels. Indeed, we found our lodging when an old man rode up to us on his bike and said “sobe,” gesturing us to follow him. We knew ‘sobe’ was the term used for guest room, so we followed him to his home nearby where his wife welcomed us and showed us two comfortable rooms and a private bathroom on the ground floor, ready for us at a very reasonable price. We could not be more pleasantly surprised. These are some of the thoughts I processed as I sat at the café in the comfortably warm sunshine, taking in the vista. If I had been wired, sitting at that café, I don’t think my memories would be as sweet. I certainly wouldn’t be able to recall what I had been reading online, what game I was playing, or what particular Facebook updates I had seen that day. Those types of memories are fleeting, if they even make it into the memory part of my brain. I want my children to have Ohrid-type experiences to recall, but they won’t if they are conditioned to be wired.
For information on visiting Ohrid, Macedonia, visit the city’s website. Every summer the city hosts a vast array of cultural events, including the renowned month-long Ohrid Summer Festival. Macedonia – one place where my visit was much too short. . .