Time goes by. I read one article. Scroll, scroll, scroll. I text people thousands of kilometers away from me. Scroll, scroll, scroll. I read another article just to make sure I have something to talk about tomorrow. Couple more scrolls, maybe I’m missing out on something. I must be. The world is changing so fast that this is the only chance I have of keeping up with it. I have to scroll.
So I do it, with about one hundred tabs open, switching between them, Snapchat stories, my Facebook feed and a vlog on Youtube that makes me forget where I am.
Days and months go by, the world gets blunt and I’m lost, trying to be in two places at once. Information is easily accessible, and it’s getting harder and harder not to drown in it. We are constantly searching for changes, new things that will make our lives more interesting.
The internet provides all of that: with just a few clicks you can “be” anywhere you want. But are you really there?
After almost a month spent in the bush of Botswana, without any way of communicating with the outside world, I now realize that being in so many places at one time is like not being anywhere at all. It’s hard to keep up with the life we live and the life we pretend to have online. We keep leaving parts of ourselves in random places that don’t even exist, slowly losing our authenticity, putting on more masks we can hide behind.
Photo by Angie Tenebrini
But what exists is our world, our planet, countries, cities and the middle of nowheres, full of unexplored places we can visit. And that’s why we travel. I’m a student of a traveling high school and that’s what our group of 30 students from all over the world is doing – learning from the places we visit together. Experiencing the world as it is, not as we read about it in our textbooks and on Wikipedia.
Botswana, the first country I visited with the school, introduced me to a new way of living. One I would never think I would like when I imagined it back in my own cozy room in Poland. As someone who hadn’t even slept in a tent before, being used to sleeping in a sleeping bag, taking bucket showers, and not having my phone alarm to wake me up in the morning seemed hard.
Everything was new during that month, from the language I was speaking to the people I was living with. For the first time in years I didn’t know what was happening around the world and what my friends and family were up to. Time stopped, the day of the week didn’t matter, and the hour was always approximate, based on the position of the sun and the last time we ate. Days passed, as I tried to remember random words in different languages, no longer able to just ask Google Translate to do the job for me. All the sounds and smells became more prominent, not overshadowed by my phone.
And no matter how cheesy it sounds, we all cherished the little moments: standing in a circle around the fire, admiring the way the sky looks away from the city lights, watching sunsets and not caring about anything other than the mix of colors that was right before our eyes, singing the same songs over and over, having deep talks around the bonfire and focusing on people without our thumbs scrolling through our Facebook feeds at the same time.
Our behavior changed when we realized how crucial it is to use all of your senses and to be aware of your surroundings when you are in the bush. We observed elephants standing only a few meters away from us, we woke up in the middle of the night hearing hyenas near our tents, and some of us tried really hard not to scream seeing spiders in random places. All of our actions were dictated by nature; it became more important to be able to spot animals, to listen to the sounds they make, and to remember to check your shoes for scorpions than to worry about what is happening in the world right now.
Photo by Angie Tenebrini
All the different realities disappeared and there was only one left—the reality of living in a camp with a bunch of people I’ve known only for a few weeks, whom I now call my friends. I couldn’t imagine what I would do when I got back to Poland, because the world with wifi and a normal bed seemed so distant. And so unwanted.
On our way back to a hotel in Maun, I felt anxious. The thought of being so close to information was like a drug. I was on the verge, imagining how everything could’ve been different to the last time I saw the news. I suddenly felt selfish for not caring about other places for a month. As our car jumped on a bumpy road between our camp and the town, the images of terrorist attacks, nuclear bombs, floods, and earthquakes were flashing before my eyes. That three-hour drive seemed like forever. It was so hard to focus on the beautiful nature that was right under my nose.
Once again, I wasn’t there, holding my phone and looking at that top left corner of the screen saying “No service”.
When I finally checked the news and read the messages my family and friends sent me, I realized that everything was still the same. I realized it’s an important skill to be able to look at things on a smaller scale and to focus on just one area, without getting distracted by all the problems in various regions.
And ever since I came back to civilization, I’ve been looking for a way to balance the time spent in both worlds. To decide what is important news and what is just another piece of information I will forget in the next few days. That’s what living in the bush has taught me.
Even if I fail to manage the amount of scrolling, I still remind myself that there’s more to life than that small box I’m looking at.
Take some time to focus on what’s around you. Switch off your phones, and try to remember what it’s like to be in just one place at one time.