By Peta Owens-Liston
Disconnecting from the Screens And Connecting by Finding Family Time on the River. So did you miss it? I asked my son Jackson as his thumbs worked his IPad in some video micro-world made for short attention spans. “No, not really,” replied my 11-year-old. “Actually, I didn’t even think about my IPad when we were on the river.” It was the morning after our Cataract Canyon river trip and he was actually making eye-contact with me as we talked—not the screen.
I doubted this would last but it did for five days when our whole family disconnected from all the electronic umbilical cords that tie us to busyness of one sort or another, gradually distancing us from one another.
Being half-present for one another, even the people we love most, is becoming a way of life thanks to screens of all sizes. Not on Holiday’s river trips. It’s not that it’s a company rule; there’s just no cell service on most of their trips which flow deep into national parks and wild areas.
Our bandwidth was the length of our raft at a speed that moved according to the moods of the Colorado River—unrushed with not a care in the world or transforming into hyper-active white water rapids that engaged even the shortest of attention spans. We counted rapids (a series of 26 on the fourth day), forgot which day it was, stopped asking what time it was, and paced ourselves—as a family—with the rhythm of the river.
My husband and I had left our IPhones in the car along with the kids’ electronic gadgets. My brother-in-law brought his cell along after his boss emphasized again and again that surely he would have cell service at some point along the way in order to check in. His phone never rang or buzzed or beeped or lassoed him in with a text. It was not until the end of Day 5, as we drove toward Green River, that he became available.
On a sandy beach one evening, while we all sat in chairs gazing at the darkening silhouette of the red-rock fortress walls, an 8-year-old boy named Mason spontaneously teased his dad, Jason, by reciting the one-sided conversations he had overheard his dad have so many times on the phone:
“Kelly, we need to get a copy of those plans.”
“Make sure you have enough guys to get it done.”
“David, we need to meet about the projects.”
“Take care of it and call me back.”
Laughter erupted as his dad looked on both amused and a bit surprised while his mother, Laurie, eagerly nodded her head, that yes, this was accurate. Jason averages 8,000-10,000 minutes a month on his cell phone and has had as many as 12,000 minutes in a month—that’s just over 8 days! Often, 5:30 am calls wake him up.
Laurie and Jason and their two kids were back this summer for another river trip with Holiday River Expeditions not just because of the fun, but because the tentacles of work can’t reach her husband out on these rivers and the family gets concentrated time together.
On their drive back home to Texas, Jason said that trips like this allow him to focus on the things that really matter in life uninterrupted, like his family. Once he had left his phone in the car (a Monday), he said he didn’t even think about work. “It was liberating and I was able to sleep and not wake-up thinking of all the deadlines.”
He said to his wife that he realized he “lives to work” and he needs to start “working to live.” “The river trip can give us all a better perspective on life and what truly matters,” reflected Laurie.
As I write this, my boys are at a movie. Yes, another screen. And, I’m in front of one too—my desktop. But I’m alright with it…with the re-immersion back into the world of Facebook and Plants vs. Aliens video games and emails, which land in my inbox like incessant knocks on the front door: schedules, deadlines, follow ups, reminders. That’s life. But for five days, our attention was on each other.
Connecting with each other meant talking not texting, laughing not LOL-ing, real smiles not e-motive smiley faces. Turns out these river trips are a great way to quit the screen-habit and not a bad hide away from the boss.
Peta Owens-Liston is a writer and editor with extensive experience in magazine writing and marketing communications writing. Publications she has written for: TIME Magazine, Sports Illustrated for Women, Organic Style, Paddler, Redbook, Via, KUER/NPR affiliate (radio essays), Park City Magazine, Salt Lake City Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune to mention a few.