I wrote this story last week, during a luxurious river boat cruise in Ireland.
“What’s the latitude here?”
“I’m not sure,” my husband responds.
And then we both smile. Because if we were home, or in most other places we’ve been the last ten years, we’d quickly find our answer on the web.
Instead we go back to enjoying what has become a familiar view: a slow moving bow, pointing south between two river banks.
We’re taking a self-drive river boat down the Shannon, right through the middle of Ireland. The shorelines teem with unfamiliar flora, fauna, geology, constantly changing weather, and two thousand years of history. If we had access to the web we’d be digging deep, thirsty for knowledge about each new sight. Instead we’re simply enjoying what’s right in front of us.
Our top speed is less than 6 knots, so we have time to study how the river’s watery knife edge has sliced through a foot of black topsoil to expose the white rock underneath. We discuss the shapes of clouds racing across green fields, and inspect the moss-covered stones of bridges as they arch close overhead. And we’re both fascinated by the lock gates, thick wood beams strapped together with black iron that (we learn from text chiseled into the stone) have been controlling the water height here since 1841.
After several lazy days gliding through the middle of Ireland, I’m once again learning to see only what’s in front of me. No hyperlinked leaps from one lilypad of factoid to another, no “if you liked this, you might also enjoy” frame of reference. Instead of “I’ll Google that,” I’m back to “I’ll ask that person,” calling on half-remembered instincts I didn’t know I’d lost to find bike paths and restaurants and fresh bread.
Best of all, we’ve rediscovered the joys of leisurely conversation—with each other, with new friends, with dockside acquaintances or the neighborhood pub’s bartender. An online presence gobbles up as many hours each day as it’s allowed; without that distraction, the days seem deliciously long. (Of course, the lengthy Irish evening twilight and late sunset help too.)
Sure, we’re missing out on a few rich kernels of knowledge, like what that yellow flower is called or which group was invading from where during the siege of 1691. But what we’ve seen we will remember better. Because this week, we are mono-tasking.
There is always something more to learn or know about the world around us. Which has made it hard to experience only what is right in front of us. And that’s exactly why we need to get offline once in awhile. To re-invigorate our interpersonal skills, to be limited by geography again, to enjoy some face time with the ones closest to us.
But… I’d still really like to know the latitude.