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May 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Blissed Out or Hotwired?

how the Internet screws up dive vacations

from the May, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Some people I know are building a liveaboard. They have thought about everything a traveling diver could possibly want. The cabins are spacious and well appointed; the ample dive deck is organized and user-friendly; the dinghies are fast and comfortable; the food promises to be excellent; and massages are offered gratis. Guess what else is included: satellite internet, available 24-7.

That's the one sour note in the deal, as far as I'm concerned. Not that I don't spend almost every waking, land-based hour at the computer writing, answering emails, doing research, etc. like everyone else I know. But even though I am usually on a liveaboard to work, my time on boats remains sacred. That's what "away" messages are for. The precious few days or weeks separated from computers, email and news (especially nowadays) are a time to let my monitor-weary eyes watch the sun disappear behind an island where thousands of bats have just taken flight, share sea stories with fellow travelers, and linger over a trashy novel with the breeze in my face. Call me a dinosaur or a hopeless romantic (the latter is preferred), but that's the way it has always been, and that's the way I want it to always be.

I don't understand this all-consuming, barely controllable need to be constantly connected. What's wrong with spending two weeks at sea, making the world go away while focusing on the minutiae of life found on a tropical reef? It's already a bit much that most underwater photographers (my husband included) spend hours downloading and reviewing images. (Full disclosure: There are tradeoffs in every marriage; Burt does Photoshop and I do our taxes).

In October 2008, we worked with Howard and Michele Hall on their IMAX movie Under the Sea 3D: Deep Sequel. The location was about as remote as it gets, at Gunung Api in the Banda Sea. Production required email capability over a satellite phone. We learned the stock market had crashed (again), and the entire crew grew frantic. After a few days of everyone monitoring their shrinking portfolios, we were all depressed. It took a huge collective effort not to let our personal worries affect filming. We talked about it, decided to stop worrying and stop checking stock prices on the Internet. Our evening Scrabble games began again, people woke up early for yoga on the deck,and we read instead of lining up to email our brokers.

I realize the need for communications with a worldwide reach, especially during an emergency. I don't object to that. What bothers me is the feeling that, by allowing ourselves to be ruled by the compulsive need to communicate, to let our "friends" know what we're doing every minute, no matter how mundane or silly the activities might be, we are not appreciating the moment, but the machine. If we are always thinking of the next email, tweet, or social network post, what becomes of our memories? Are they condensed to a limited number of characters? Are they deposited into our computers or smartphones in a short form?

Somehow for me, savoring a journey to a faraway place enhances our recollections of that journey. Indeed, it creates and recreates our memories, as our inner space constantly embellishes the encounters and the experiences in ways cyberspace can not. So many people arrive at dive resorts or on liveaboards totally frazzled by their busy lives that it often takes several days for them to unwind to a point where they begin to appreciate the sea's natural rhythms. I believe that, in the end, our memories will become our most treasured possessions. (My 99-year-old mother-in-law agrees.) Will your memories mirror the frustrations of your workaday world as you queue up to check email, when you could have been toasting the sunset? Or will you be able to close your eyes and remember a time when you gave yourself the gift of the sea, natural and unadulterated?

Maurine Shimlock, along with her husband, Burt Jones, is an award-winning marine life photographer, whose most recent book, Diving Indonesia's Raja Ampat, is available for sale at www.undercurrent.org . You can also read Maurine and Burt's regular blog posts for us at www.undercurrent.org/blog/author/burtmaurine

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