For the five days we were on Big Munson Island, separated from smart phones and the never-ending tidal wave of digital information, the wind blew from the east, along the Straits of Florida between Cuba and the Keys. Sometimes it was a light breeze, just enough to stir the leaves and keep the bugs at bay. Many times, it was a full-on gale, flipping the hammocks around and stirring up six-foot seas beyond the reef. And always, the wind was a constant soundtrack, replacing the one that usually flows from small devices into little white earbuds. The only organized music was of the group camp song variety.
Yet, the wind was always welcome. It kept the tropical temperatures down and even the smallest of insects didn't bother us. And it did something else, at least for me: it provided a kind of constant reminder that the only information we needed to react to was related to the weather, to the tides, and to each other. No one did the chronic idiot's walk-and-tap of the Blackberry and iPhone addicted all week. Rather, we looked around and judged our circumstances and surroundings imply by what we saw, what we heard, what we smelled, and what we touched.
This is no small thing, especially to someone who's been addicted to that digital stream of consciousness now for a good 15 years. What I found was that interruptions were few and mostly worth paying attention to. That conversations matter - the spoken kind, the face-to-face genus of the species. And that our human senses became - literally overnight - more taut, more sharply set and more useful.
Yet there was some communication with the world outside (and I don't mean the senior counselors' lone shortwave radio in the HQ tent for emergencies). No, the sea provided. There was the label on the empty shampoo bottle from Jamaica, the writing on the detergent bottle from the Bahamas. Based on its position at the top of the Caribbean and to the west, the barrier islands on the southern side of the Keys receive all manner of interesting human junk. Like the bottle from Cuba that one of the scouts found: transparent green and containing 22 Cuban dollars and the small photo of a young man in his twenties. Was it a funeral offering? Or the hopeful harbinger of someone beginning a journey to a new life? There was no way to tell, yet we discussed the possibilities late into the night. It was a short message from the sea, far more powerful than any Twitter message I've ever read, speed-scanning 140-character posts like a maniac back in civilization.
Indeed, this was social media - not just the mysterious bottle, but the collective stories on the island: the hilarious skits put on by the guides, the stories around the fire each evening, the fish tales from the fishing trip. And the little decorations that appear and the entrance to each inland campsite on Big Munson. Conch shells by the dozen, colorful lobster pot floats, bits of flotsam and the occasional hunk of rock or coral - all hung with nylon boating lines, also washed ashore. We added to our site's "front yard" during the week and enjoyed the exterior decorating in the evenings as we looked toward distant lightning storms in the southern sea. And all the while, the wind made the ornaments turn slowly, in the slow syncopated rhythm that can only appreciated by the totally unwired.