It’s been three days since I’ve been back from Italy and I still haven’t opened my computer. It’s not because I don’t have things I need to do (I do) or that I can accomplish everything I need to on my phone (I can’t). It’s because for two whole weeks, I was reminded of what my life was like when it wasn’t portable. And I was brought back to a time when my worth or livelihood wasn’t even remotely dependent on a screen.
I’m not an avid traveler in the least, but I know the power of what a change of space can do for the soul. Traveling, whether to Rome or Rhode Island, will rip you away from the familiar and at the same time remind you of all the things you recognize and hold dear even when the landscape is foreign. You start to remember who you were before the proverbial “world told you who to be,” and you start to wonder if you’d still be YOU if born in another time zone, speaking another language, under a different sun/moon turnover. The things you think define you fade away during takeoff, and all that’s left are your thoughts and feelings upon landing. Going away becomes a homecoming.
But back to the laptop. I know I have work to do, and I know I can’t claim “re-entry” forever. I’ve gone off the grid before. I’m down with the Vacation Responder settings. But there’s something particularly off about my tech-aversion this trip around, especially since it was all in such close, tangible access the whole time around. I could feel my laptop’s sleek, cool edges kiss my fingers as I slid it out of my bag for TSA, expecting my flight to be filled with issuing invoices and playing email catch-up. I recognized my computer’s gentle weight and thud as I landed my backpack back at home in its resident corner of our 475 square feet, fully expecting it to yell for my usage now that we were far from the coastlines and Caprese salads. I listened hard. I really did. But I couldn’t hear its call.
There was a time, you might remember, when the internet was a joyful side-dish to the hearty main course of life. But gone are the You’ve Got Mail days of delighting at a *ping!* and taking each website for its www-face value. Inbox Zero is now the goal, and a site can’t just be a SITE anymore: it’s got to be a HUB, with impeccable SEO and a whole host of press mentions and celeb-cred to prove its legitimacy. We live our lives about one-third of the time on our own and the rest of the time vicariously through influencers, and we spend hours peeling through click-bait headlines that lead us to half-baked content meant to leave us wanting more and clicking together opinions we’re not sure are even fully ours. There is so much good to the internet – connection! collaboration! insight! But somewhere between the romance of Shopgirl and NY152 and now, the internet has become the hearty main course of life that each amuse-bouche IRL experience is crafted around.
Our almost two-week long trip to Italy was our honeymoon, yes – but it was transformative way way beyond the parameters of our relationship. During our twelve days hopping from big cities down to coastal towns and back again, my Noticing muscles were on overdrive and overstimulated to the max. I saw freshly-washed clothing being hung upon outdoor laundry lines because that’s just how it’s always been done. I heard 80s and 90s tunes covered and reimagined into dance tracks, with not one Top 40 hit or latest-pop-sensations in earshot (okay, just one – the ONLY exception was that “Juice” was playing everywhere, which as a long-time Lizzo fan made me beam with pride). I walked through thousands-of-years-old ruins while captivated by a tour guide probably half a decade younger than me who needed no notes or maps to help her and told the history of each corner by beginning with phrases like “You must now imagine…” And between stumbling upon the best meals of my life and chatting with locals filled with hometown glory, I remembered what it truly means to make an impact that lasts longer than your Self.
And so my reluctance to touch my laptop isn’t actually about an aversion to technology itself or some newfound dogma claiming the internet is ruining our society. No: my current hesitation is because I’ve been reminded for the first time in YEARS of what it truly means to live a legacy. My laptop – my so-called digital window-to-the-world – is a tool in my legacy-making toolbox…but must never, ever be the thing I use to CONSTRUCT and DEFINE my legacy itself. Wandering the uneven streets of Pompeii and scanning out over the Forum ruins and eating at cafes on the side streets of Positano and Amalfi reminded me of something I heard a historian once say that I can only now paraphrase: No era of our civilization is inherently more or less advanced than the other. We just gain and lose knowledge along the way, over and over. When I looked out over things I’d only seen in textbooks and dreams, my overwhelming though was NOT “What on earth were the tools they used to build this?” – it was “Who on earth were these people whose minds could conjure up such a vision?” Or, to be honest, I mostly thought nothing at all. Because it was the feelings that took center stage.
The feelings I felt – and the thoughts I formed directly related to them – those were centuries of legacy in motion.
Maybe your tech-of-choice isn’t your laptop like mine is. Maybe it’s your phone, or a tablet, or the television you use to numb or learn or search the massive void of 0’s and 1’s. Or maybe the thing you use to craft your You-ness isn’t even a piece of technology at all.
But it’s worth asking every now and again: is this thing helping me articulate my legacy, my meaning, my mission…or is it deciding those things FOR me? If this thing did not exist…would *I*? And am I clear on what matter the most to me, or am I scrambling to keep up with what I think matters most to others?
I won’t be able to stay off my laptop for long – nor do I WANT to! – but while I’m in this headspace, I’m going to do as much as I can to preserve the magic I feel. I’m going to write as much as I can pen-to-paper, then transcribe my words onto the screen if I need to publish an essay or article or even just a podcast’s Show Notes. I’m going to opt for IRL meetings whenever possible instead of tying myself to my Gmail account. I’m going to take my phone, and my purse, and my papers, and I’m going to sit outside somewhere or at least by a window to work and feel connected to the world at the same time. And when I’m on a computer (like I am right now as I transcribe this piece, with just one browser tab open at a time and the intention to “get in get out and get on with my life“), I’m going to make sure that whatever I do on that piece of metal is MEANINGFUL.
Our technology could disappear tomorrow like the city of Pompeii, and we could run through the knowledge-lost-knowledge-gained tap dance hundred of more times in this century alone. But what I have to say matters. What I have to give matters. And it does for you, too. And there is no passage of time or piece of equipment that could ever change that. Time and tech will try to steal your voice and reclaim it as their own, but your impact is yours to make, not theirs. And that impact fully transcends whatever it is you perceive to be your day-to-day benchmarks of predefined success. Our legacy isn’t in the things we birth or the structures we build, but the knowledge we pass and the DNA strands we eventually return back to the stars. And leaning into that profound knowing, and letting the things that once dictated what we did and how we did it take a seat on the shelf (or the far-left corner of 475 square feet) for a while can be more than enough to remind us of who we are.
I went to Italy, sure. But you don’t need to travel across time zones and sun/moon turnovers to come back home.