Mixed Signals

A Place With No Telecom

10/01/2010 7:12 AM

In late August, I had the great pleasure of taking my annual weekend outing to the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my now grown children. We cooked, hiked, swam and took a lot of photos — the typical stuff of a mountain vacation.

But what caught me this time, more than ever, was we did not telecom (I can’t believe I’m using a derivative of the word “communicate” as a verb, but it fits here). As a result, we did a better job communicating (as ironic as that may seem).

We go to a place called Mineral King. Access is limited because of a rather treacherous 25-mile road, in and out. But importantly, toward the goal of having a great weekend with my kids, access is limited because there is no cell phone or Internet service. Effectively, the wires are dead (or at least as far as they are concerned…there is a public phone out near the parking area, but I don’t remind them of that…as if they’d actually deign or stoop or know how to use such an archaic device ).

Thus, for two days, my offspring neither talked to their friends, texted their buddies, tweeted their allies, conducted or committed anything telecom. In fact, the only time I saw one of them pick up their device was to check the time, and when another set his alarm.

Indeed, it was the weekend without that typical telecom interruption. And that was very positive.

It was almost comical on the way up. As we got closer and closer to a point near Three Rivers, where cell coverage will be lost, they battled against those time and geographical location boundaries, knowing that if they didn’t get their calls or tweets or texts sent out by that time and location Friday eve, they would have had to wait until late in the weekend before they could dialogue again.

And that also means no news and no sports. That said, it’s a good thing we go before the college football and NFL seasons begin, because my boys would be breaking out in hives were it a week or so later and they were to miss their fantasy football leagues and the like.

When I asked them what it was like for them to be without telecom for the almost 48 hours that weekend, one noted, “For the first few hours, it is stressful to get out of the habit, but when we start doing chores around the cabin and hiking, then it can be very relaxing.” Said the older one: “It forces us to take our minds off of waiting for important emails. And that’s actually very liberating…for a time.”

Years from now, if companies like Ico (http://www.ico.com/)and Terrestar (http://www.terrestar.com/) have their hoped-for input, my children will be able someday to stop at the general store in Silver City, as we drive into Mineral King, and pick up a combination cellular-satellite hand device, that will give them that all-important coverage in the mountains. But, frankly, I’m pretty sure that level of use probably won’t be theirs, but rather that of my grandchildren, more than one decade from today.

Meanwhile, can I recommend for a weekend or two of one’s short life: get your kids to the mountains, and get them there without telecom. As one of mine said, “It can be ‘very liberating.’ ”

And as I would say, “It can be a great way to really c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e!”

Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy The Carmel Group.