By Leigh Morrow
We wake to our digital alarm and a high-tech world that tells us what we are missing in our fridge or how to avoid traffic, re-routing if not driving, us to work. We program the front door to open, the furnace to start, the lights to dim, all through technology. We text our friends and family minute by minute, look for a date, send reminders on our virtual calendar to our mate, pay our bills, book a plane ticket, watch the latest Trump antics, even vote, all through the marvels of the Internet. As a result of this massive virtual power, we have become inseparable from our phones. It’s seductive, all this distraction, in a device so small it fits in the palm of your hand.
This week I experienced a decidedly different digital viewpoint.
Cuba has only recently stepped into the technological world, offering sporadic and slow service, only available at infrequent hot spots. Everyone lines up, often for a considerable time, and buys in cash a phone card with prepaid minutes. Locals and tourists then sit on the ground or stand on the curb at these wifi hotspots getting on the Internet. At first you wonder why dozens of people are crammed in such a small outdoor space, often in rainy weather, then you see the tower and understand it is all to get online. This expensive (and it is expensive, especially for the average Cuban), controlled and highly inconvenient approach to the Internet has its merits.
The Internet is not cheap, so you use it sparingly for starters. No aimless surfing or sending Pinterest ideas here. 2nd, the internet stays put- it’s in only a few spots and you go to it, which is not always convenient. Cuba has no internet on the go. Google has not crept into the privacy of their homes. Families have meals, talking. Friends meet in cafes to spend time together. At work, you work. In church, you pray. Couples walk down the seawall, smiling and making eye contact. No one here is fighting for their family’s attention with a cell phone as we do at home.
Cubans dance without texting or sending selfies and teenagers hold hands, not their phones. Texting and driving is non- existent. Drivers of those classic old American Chevys plying us tourists from one coast to another are content listening to music but watching the road, thank God, as it’s dangerous enough. This is an island that lives without a constant all- demanding distraction that we have been conned into. Cubans have a freedom reminiscent of my childhood, which was decidedly no-tech.
After constant connection in North America, it is a huge refreshing change, and personally a wake-up call on my own digital diet. It makes you realize, once you disengage for a few days, how much we have traded for our constant Internet connection. Our lives have been made easier but also more isolated and ironically more challenged, constantly pressured to interact with that noise or vibration that has trained us like Pavlov’s dog.
This was a special vacation for my girlfriends’ 60th birthday. A time away from work and kids and husbands, a time to kick up our heels, but what really set us free was our silent phones.
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer and owns Casa Mihale in San Agustinillo which you can rent for your next holiday at www.gosanagustinillo.com