We’re just past the peak of fall color. On my hilltop, the hues of crimson and chartreuse are giving way to dusky birch bark and the smell of downed leaves. On a morning hike there’s a satisfying crunch of leaves underfoot. Close your eyes and it could be today, or some version of today 200 years ago. Time stands still. Yet in my moment frozen in time, I know the future is coming to Brown County. It’s here, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
I know that many of you visit because it’s a bit of a step back in time. You can come for camping in the forest, as primitive as you like, steep yourself in the lack of cellphone coverage, or maybe take in a few nights in a cabin in the hills. Whether you are immersed in the natural greens and browns of the park, or the night sounds of crickets and frogs, the wilds of Brown County sure ain’t the city. That’s why you come here. Heck, that’s why I came here some years ago.
It’s that chance to reconnect by disconnecting. Find that part of yourself that’s lost in the static of daily life. Between rush hour traffic, phone calls, dashing to pick up dry-cleaning, and keeping up with the latest whatevers, sometimes you can feel more machine than human. At least that’s how it was when I lived in the cement walls of our state capital.
To our many visitors it may come as news that there are people that actually live here. That’s right, permanent residents of the county. We have ‘em. Some may speculate that being a resident is some form of permanent vacation, and I suppose in some ways it is. When I share that morning cup of coffee on the back porch with my beloved, we say hello to the neighbors… which happen to be a flock of turkeys, 4 possums, birds of all description, Mr & Mrs turtle and their kids. There was a traffic jam in the driveway yesterday – a dozen deer pileup. Tragic.
So, yes, life is at a different pace, but an event of seismic proportion is rippling through the community. Threatening to upend the lifestyle that, in some ways, harkens back to the middle of the last century. Dave knows what I’m talking about. He’s got it now. It’s high speed internet. In the woods. I kid you not.
Since the beginning of time, the best internet we could get in the woods was the technological equivalent of tin cans and string with a USB cable taped to one end, and that was on a good day. In fact my good friend Rick got internet for the first time EVER just last week. It’s like he was living in 1992, and then suddenly rocketed into the future with the speed and slickness that only fiber optic cable can give you. I’d not be surprised at all if he got whiplash from the experience.
It used to be that if I wanted to show him a funny meme or cat video, I’d have to burn it to a CD and mail it to him. In the mail. With a stamp. Now it’s easy as click and go right from the comfort of my oak rocker – from my woodland back porch to his. Zip Bang Done. Now Rick gets to see what we’ve all been laughing at since 1998. You’ll have to ask him if it was worth the wait.
Although that may point to the bigger question. Constant connectivity has value, but it’s not without cost. The siren song of the constant scroll through content, the potential for unending hours of distraction. You can do that from anywhere, and now you can do it… from anywhere.
With each flip through Instragam in the evening, am I trading my woodland escape for a digital bubble? Maybe? I’m also the guy that can eat a whole bag of chips in one sitting, so I may have some issues of my own to sort through.
What I’m getting at is, unfettered digital access is a trade. A fair trade in most cases, but still a trade. Don’t misunderstand, I am eternally grateful to South Central Indiana REMC for stringing fiber-optic cable throughout the county. It’s made it so many of us are able to work from home during the pandemic. Zoom meetings, banking, movies, political arguments, all of it. When they strung the first cable in 2019, we all knew it was important, but no one had any idea that it would be THIS important. For many, internet access ranks up there with Electricity and running water in terms of surviving modern life. With the uncertainty of infection rates and schools, the opportunity for quality education may even hang in the balance. Very important stuff.
So while we are grateful, let’s not forget what brought us to the back country to begin with. There may be an opportunity cost for all of this high speed digital goodness. Don’t forget the sounds of frogs at night. The rustle of leaves just before it starts to rain. The smell of the dirt and pine needles on the hike through the park. The stillness anticipating the fish to bite. Those things are there waiting for you. Don’t replace them with some unreasonable facsimile, no matter how fast it hits your screen.