COLUMN: Departure from the digital world

Teenagers can live without telephones, television, texting, Facebook and Internet.

Teenagers can live without telephones, television, texting, Facebook and Internet.

Heresy, cry the youth!

Impossible, proclaim the parents!

‘Tis true, say I.

I have seen it with mine own eyes.

For five consecutive days, no less.

It was going to be an interesting social experiment. Could two 14-year-old girls be disconnected from the digital world for a week, and emerge emotionally and mentally unscathed?

The test subjects: Our daughter and a long-time friend.

The laboratory: A log cabin in remote northern B.C., approximately 120 miles from the nearest civilization … and wi-fi service.

The time frame: Between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

The lab personnel: Parents of said daughter, the couple who own the cabin, and their 20-something son with girlfriend.

The concept of the experiment is introduced to the primary test subject, along with a description of environmental factors, i.e. no running water or indoor plumbing, wood heating only, and just short periods of generator electricity; the rest by gas lantern or flashlight.

Reaction predictable: High-pitched interrogative, dilated pupils, shortness of breath.

Period of recovery required.

(While our lab subject has been exposed numerous times to summer and fall outdoor conditions, a spartan winter world will be a new one. Ditto subject number two.)

Agreement reached, and arrangements made.

One concession is negotiated. A portable DVD player and a movie is allowed during the 10-hour drive to said lab. Ditto on the way home.

However, said electronic device cannot be used in the cabin.

There will be other things to do, we promise. Such as staying warm. It’s -10 C when we arrive (and drops to -22 when we leave).

There’s a foot of snow on the ground, and that builds by another six inches after two more snowfalls.

Prime conditions for snowshoeing.

Ah yes, there’s a little known activity on the Wet Coast. Little point in putting flat baskets on the bottom of one’s boots to walk in water!

Not so up in the snowy hinterlands of B.C.

We did take some technology with us, in the form of two snowmobiles. Of course, one packed it in on day two.

That limited the gas-powered travel to the northern version of transit – a sled behind a snow machine.

And when we weren’t doing that, there was wood to chop and carry inside. There were meals to prepare and consume. There was water to draw from under the ice in the creek, and tote to the cabin.

And there was old-fashioned fun – cards. Who would have thought two teens could engage in variations of games that have been around for centuries?

At night, there were stars upon which to gaze. Not the paltry little pinpoints we see through city lights and smog. No, northern winter skies are dusted with a billion diamonds, some in swaths so thick they seem like glowing dust.

And then there was the silence. Silence so penetrating you can hear it.

Silence so pure it compels one to be silent.

Except for the talking. Imagine that. Instead of texting, the girls talked. And talked some more. And they laughed, and walked and worked together, with nary a digit working a digital device.

And they were reminded that this is what people used to do all the time.

And it was good.

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