During a bumpy, hour-long motocab ride out of Iquitos, Peru, my iPhone popped out of my pocket, out of the loosely scaffolded vehicle, and onto the potholed and rocky street. By the time I realized it was gone, it was already dust. On the boat ride that followed, I tried to scratch my tech itch with my camera, only to discover I had left its battery in the charger, which was checked back at the hotel. I was facing five days without personal electronics.
Within an hour, I was tweeting out loud. I used the defunct camera and its lenses as a weight to keep my room’s screen door closed. When the sun went down the first night (at some time, maybe 6, I had no way to know), everyone retreated to their rooms, and I was bored and alone with my thoughts. It was rough.
But on the second day I made use the one luxury I allowed myself in my ultralight packing – a sketchpad and pen. By the third day, I was up sketching at dawn, and used downtime through the heat of the day to explore the shadier foliage. I studied textures during the daylight so I could finish the drawings from memory in my room after dark.
We were supposed to stay in this location for five days, but lightning blew out the camp solar panel on the third day, so we left on day four. When my colleagues realized their phones and laptops were losing charge that couldn’t be replenished, a couple of them visibly panicked. I offered to share my drawing materials and welcomed them to the tech detox. They weren’t amused.
The lessons I take from this are about packing. Pack small things tightly on open roads. Make sure you pack all your peripherals. But also, pack a non-tech activity, ideally one that can be shared.