Two years ago, after we graduated from college, the vast majority of our friends dispersed and reclumped in cities across the country, drawn by the budding nexuses of a vast millennial network that we would build together in the coming years. Our unparalleled connectivity had obviated the teary goodbye. The culmination of our four years of physical proximity seemed, at the time, fairly trivial; we all shared videos and playlists and enough of our waking moments virtually that mere geography had no chance to threaten our bonds.
My roommate Truman and I had different dreams. Seeking to flee the city and its heady flush of our fellow twenty-somethings, we would pursue our bucolic dreams to the middle of the Atlantic.
We live in a white oak forest on a sandy plain which, far enough down our dirt road, meets the surly chop of the ocean on the south shore of Martha's Vineyard. After a promising first season of producing log grown shiitake mushrooms, full time, for local restaurants and markets, we decided to get our own place to support the growth of the operation.
The search for a house ended surprisingly fast, and we found everything we had hoped for in a 70's style compound out past the bustle of Edgartown. A small horse paddock out back lent itself to visions of a massive home garden, complete with a pond alongside where we could watch spring arrive with the mallards and wisteria blooms.
Though Comcast provides their Double and Triple Plays to much of the island and even Verizon Fios has begun its slow creep along the main roadbeds, we quickly discovered that our humble abode lay outside the service areas of any internet providers. Far from a dead zone, our Emersonian encampment was the land that time forgot.
This predicament handed us a rare 'put up or shut up' moment. Here we found ourselves finally realizing the promise of our own agricultural Eden, and the powers that be had stealthily cut our umbilical to the web. Throughout the past year, and despite our grand proclamations that we were getting out and living off the land, we had always maintained constant connection with the "Real World." Coming off a hard day in the field, we relied on Netflix to ease our aches, and hours of Facebook trance to transport us away from the realities of farming. FaceTime vented daily grievances into passive aggressions.
We sat down as a group of roommates and talked about what to do with our stingily dealt hand. Would we fight it? Appeal to the Better Business Bureau, (after all, weren't we running a business, here?) Run a long trench in the dead of night to steal cable from the main road? Our discussion ran on through the evening, and began to take on a meta sheen. None of us could remember the last time we had sat in a group and carried on such a well attended conversation. Without the sweet promise of self-imposed streaming solitary, our collective battle had become the entertainment; hours had gone by without anyone so much as checking Instagram.
We now live without a home internet connection. Being without WiFi has reduced our stress levels, enhanced our communication and connection with each other, and made us more interesting, if not quirkier, people altogether.
Some months later, the most reluctant to support that night's decision have become its biggest zealots. A housemate's gaming passion has found fresh fascination with the library, where he rents movies daily for us to sit down and watch together. The musically inclined, assisted by that retro marvel, the turntable, have taken up browsing garage sales and listening repeatedly to single albums. We swear we have gleaned a deeper appreciation for those songs we have, and at the very least memorized the entire score of "Fiddler on the Roof," which we periodically perform for guests.
Most importantly, the house has become our safe haven away from work. To check accounts or order supplies, we set aside time to connect to WiFi in town -- blocks of time which don't lend themselves to dallying. Once we return to the house, we can truly sluff off the cares of the workday. DIY projects have taken over the yard. Someone has piled driftwood and beach stone for a nascent desk against the fence, and the garden has grown to encompass over an acre. To monitor a profile on a dating app before going out, or to check for an important email, a smartphone's limited data tether has more than sufficed; we haven't received an upbraiding yet for missed emails.
A dear friend once told me that life's meaning can be distilled down to, "Being a person in a place." Owning the decision about where, and when, to connect to the content storm with which the cloud bombards us has left the rest of our time to pursue that mantra. We observe and interact with those around us. Our undivided attention subsists for longer than it used to. We think more deeply, because we have less to process. And, most importantly, we have a couple friends with HBO who don't mind us coming over on Sundays.