|Our first encounter—Jiyugaoka Lupicia Tea class, May 2010!|
My friend Nicole dropped some big news a few months ago: she and her husband were going off the media grid. They canceled their cell phones, email accounts, personal blogs and facebook accounts. Gone. No television. They retained a home computer with internet access and a single land line.
I was surprised—is that possible today? But surprise was quickly replaced with something less expected: admiration and—dare I say it?—ENVY. Since that day, we’ve exchanged letters, postcards, photos and phone calls. Then I requested an interview to explore this radical alternative lifestyle. It seemed like an appropriate chaser for yesterday’s post.
Note: This post is interspersed with totally normal photos of Nicole and me to highlight the radical nature of her new alternative lifestyle.
|Nikko Samurai Parade, 2010. Today Nicole and I live far more pedestrian lives as moms Stateside. Rebekah parties on!|
Passport Diaries Alternative Lifestyle Research Team: How did you arrive at the decision to go off the media grid?
Nicole: There wasn’t one thing that tipped the scale. It was a slow process starting when the (twin one-year-old) girls were born. We felt like we were letting it take too much time. There’s only so much time in life, and we want to be here and present with our children, each other and our friends. Writing letters forces us to be more thoughtful and less careless with words. I stay home with the girls, so I don’t really need a cell phone. We don’t even want to be able to be contacted all the time. And it saves money.
|We were in VOGUE…Cafe|
PDALRT: So what changes have you noticed in yourself—mentally, emotionally—since making that decision?
Nicole: I think I am not as stressed by other people’s opinions. I’m a very influenced person—does that make sense?—if I consume too many people’s ideas. Information overload. Especially about parenting. Now I just don’t listen to that and try to get my influence from the Bible and trusted people I admire: my mom, my aunt, my grandmother. I think I would be a lot more stressed out and a lot more unsure of myself as a mom if I’d let myself listen to too many things. I have a lot more time at home for things I want to do—it might sound silly—but making dinner, playing with the girls. People say, “You must be so busy with twins!” and I’m not really.
PDALRT: Is there anything you miss, or that you were worried you’d miss?
Nicole: I definitely love keeping in touch with people. That was one thing we were worried we’d lose. But one of my husband’s former coworkers called to fill him in on where everyone was and what they were doing, but we already knew all that from writing and calling people. He said, “Oh. I thought I was giving you the scoop, but it sounds like you’re in the know!” We don’t want to cut ourselves out and be our own little island. It’s just trying to limit some of the noise. You know, when you’re tired, it’s too easy to turn on the TV. I still have a planner, make my lists, have a big calendar. But I’m also not in as many activities since having the girls and moving back to the States (from Japan).
|Mary, Jill, Nicole and Mari: Replicating The Arts in the Tokyo Museum of Vogue Cafe (Modern Art? We saw Van Gogh)|
PDALRT: I totally relate to wanting to limit the online noise. Do you consider what you’re doing radical?
Nicole: I think it is for this day and age, and I don’t necessarily think it’s for everybody. Sometimes it’s not good to go with the flow. Sometimes it’s fine. You don’t have to feel compelled to do something if that makes you feel bad about yourself. You don’t have to. Everything in life that you’re saying yes to is saying no to something else. You can’t have it all, but you can choose what you say no to. If you have a cell phone, you’re always contactable. But if you don’t, you run the risk of being stranded at the side of the road. It’s trying to decide, as a family, what’s best for the family. It doesn’t have to be what everyone else is doing.
|Replicating a fashion poster in Shinjuku|
PDALRT: Hee hee! It’s kind of Amish!
Nicole: It is quite Amish, actually. We do have a car, though; we don’t ride a horse and buggy.
PDALRT: What kind of reactions have you gotten? Have you gotten any negative reactions, or reactions you didn’t expect?
Nicole: People have said, “You can’t do that!” I didn’t think people would really care that much. Family members said we couldn’t expect them to write letters just because we no longer have email. One friend emailed me a detailed list of reasons I can’t stop using email, mostly related to her being able to contact me about her wedding. It was really funny because we never emailed. Another friend told me I couldn’t cancel email and I said, “We never email!” She said, “I know, but now I won’t be able to email you if I want!” No one’s been outright rude about it, but the majority of negative reactions I’ve gotten is, “That’s stupid. Just don’t use it as often.” People think if someone can’t moderate their usage, that’s their problem.
|Palace in Bangkok|
PDALRT: So what DO you miss about facebook and email?
Nicole: Sometimes I’d like to just quickly tell someone something, and I don’t have time to call them. Not having the option to get a quick message back is inconvenient. Being at the store and wondering if we’re out of something and not being able to call and ask is inconvenient. We traveled south for the holidays and we forgot our list of phone numbers. If we’d had a cellphone that wouldn’t have happened, but it we figured it out. I definitely thrive on interaction with other people so—especially if I’m feeling lonely or nostalgic—it would be nice to look at facebook pictures. There are those people I’ve fallen out of contact with. It’s hard to stay in touch with everybody through writing letters and telephone calls, so my social network has gotten smaller. But I think that’s natural. You have to move on.
PDALRT: “Life is made up of meetings and partings.” Isn’t that Dickens? Or at least Muppet Christmas Carol Gonzo Dickens?
Nicole: That sounds good! Also, not being on facebook makes me really excited to get Christmas card photos and letters!
PDALRT: What don’t you miss?
Nicole: I really want to be present with the people that are right here with me. I don’t need to be connected to someone I went to second grade with and see the pictures of their birthday party. I no longer play the comparison game. I have a lot less exposure to things I compare myself to, and I’ve gained discernment and more confidence. I also have more time to read my Bible and pray. I think that’s helped me to be content and satisfied with where I am and how our family is, and not feeling like everyone needs to be the same. I like to read historical books to keep modern life in perspective. I heard something on NPR that was saying we’re in a “present shock” stage culturally with too much information in the here-and-now. We don’t think about the past. I can see how that would really skew our perspective.
|Nicole and I took these elephant photos at the same time|
PDALRT: I hear you describing a simplified life. Where did this start, and what else has it affected?
Nicole: Do you remember when we went to Thailand and there was that Walking Street in Pataya?
Nicole: Well one night, we were walking down Walking Street and one of those boys dressed like a girl handed me a menu of sex acts I could watch for a marginal fee. We kept talking about it on the way back to the hotel. My husband said, “It’s about the profits. None of this is good for society, for the country, for people at all, it’s just looking for a profit.” That started us thinking of our money in a different way: everything we buy is a vote. We did a lot of research and we found a lot of stuff we just weren’t ok with. When we had the girls, we started thinking about their clothes. We don’t want to use our money to “vote” for bad practices that harm the workers or people who live near crops saturated with chemicals. So a lot of the things we’ve chosen to buy for our kids and ourselves is minimized. We try not to hurt God’s creation or exploit people. A lot of the bargains you can get are cheap because they’re manufactured in countries with poor practices. It is more expensive, but we just don’t buy as much of it.
|Our husbands met this day|
PDALRT: So what are y’all going to do next?! Is there a point in time you foresee yourself buying a cellphone again?
Nicole: For now, we’ve given it up indefinitely, but there could be a time it changes back. It’ll really depend what our family’s like. We plan to get out of the Navy and start a farm. I think our life’s going to be really different. I don’t know why we’re doing this, why God’s given us these passions. I think it’s kind of odd, some of the things that we do!
PDALRT: Well, you’re an inspiration to me. What would you say to being an inspiration?
Nicole: Maybe people don’t necessarily want to do someone else’s weird thing, but it’s interesting to know it’s possible. If someone was like, “Well, I’m not going to cancel all this, but I’m not going to let it ruin my life,” I would like that. I definitely don’t think of it as having an impact other than on our family, so I would be grateful if someone found it inspiring!
And then ALL THE BABIES started the pre-dinner freak out! So that wraps up our interview. Thank you, Nicole!