News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

June 20, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Forget the cellphone, enjoy the summer

As the year’s longest day arrives, spend your time wisely

The third rail post from the left on the second-floor patio.

By holding a cellphone at eye level, with your left hand, while standing perfectly still, without blinking, a faint one-bar signal was possible. Possible.

Otherwise, there was no connection to the outside world at this retreat spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where my wife and I stayed earlier this month. No TVs. No radios. Scant cellphone reception. A landline phone rested on the nightstand in each room, but I don’t even remember how to place a long-distance call. A computer in the lodge lobby offered Internet access, but the concept of sitting for hours in front of an electronic device while a Monet-caliber landscape loomed outside the window seemed crazy, so we didn’t.

Despite our unplugged state, something revolutionary happened.

The sun rose each morning. People conversed. Laughing occurred. Trails were hiked. Books were read. Food was enjoyed.

Yes, my aerobic attempts to transmit a text on that lodge patio, staring at my cellphone instead of the Blue Ridge Mountain background — even momentarily — made me think twice. I was waiting to see a checkmark and “Successfully Sent” flash across the phone’s screen. A flashback of another checkmark message entered my mind — the one on my elementary school report cards under the category of “Uses Time Wisely.”

It reminded me how easily minutes and hours, and opportunities, can slip away.

Which brings us to the topic of Friday — the summer solstice, the official first day of summer, and the longest day of the year.

The Wabash Valley will experience 14 hours, 57 minutes and 29 seconds of daylight Friday, between sunrise at 6:23 a.m. and sunset at 9:20 p.m. Ancient cultures celebrated “midsummer” each June 21 as Earth’s axis reaches its closest inclination toward the sun. They staged festivals, lit bonfires, walked over fiery coals, gathered herbs, sang, danced, and feasted with food and drink as a respite between spring planting and tending to the crops before the fall harvest. Centuries later, if current trends continue, millions of Americans will spend 3 hours and 12 minutes of the year’s longest day connected to social media.

Our medieval ancestors would shake their hairy heads at us in disbelief.

We gaze at those flashy, rectangular boxes in the palm of our hands a lot. Sixty-seven percent of American adults use social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, according to a Pew Research Center study this year. The aforementioned 3-hour, 24-minute online usage merely represents an average. The 18- to 34-year-old group spends 3 hours, 48 minutes a day scanning those networks, while 50- to 64-year-olds average 2 hours, 24 minutes, according to calculations by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange. Women average 3.6 hours, and men 2.6.

This isn’t a rant against Facebook and its social network brethren; they have their virtues. Instead, the year’s longest stretch of daylight always feels like a wakeup call. The solstice creates a mental image of a massive digital stopwatch lurking overhead, counting down from 14:57:29 to 0. Each tick of the clock feels so brief and makes us question whether we’re using those seconds, minutes and hours in ways that will mean something when the sun rises tomorrow, next week, next year or 2023.

We don’t have to dance around a bonfire, quaffing mead, like middle-age people pretending to live in the Middle Ages. It’s far more simple.

Visit a park. The City of Terre Haute operates more than 1,000 acres of parks, trails, greenways, boulevards and golf courses. The Vigo County Parks system contains 1,868 acres of parks, wetlands, trails and campgrounds. Take in some live music; there’s plenty around the community, from coffeehouses to clubs, from orchestras to Hank Williams cover tunes. Explore a library. Read a book. See a play. Walk the neighborhood. Visit a house of worship. Volunteer at a local charity.

Look beyond the cellphone to the horizon.

Summer is at its physical starting line. Use the time wisely.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

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