top of page

SHUT OUT @ Shut-ins

A while ago, I was talking with a teenager when the subject of social media came up. He posed the question, “How long do I have to keep all this social media stuff up?” He was tired of trying to keep up with social networking—Instagram and TikTok. Coming from a 19-year-old ‘gen texter,’ I was kinda shocked. Curious, I began talking to other teenagers about social media. Most of the kids said that despite being connected 24/7, they still felt lonely. A large number say they don’t post what they think or feel; instead, they post what they think their friends will view as cool. Sound familiar? Even though they are constantly (virtually) connected, they seldom connect face-to-face in a reality-based, heartfelt way with other human beings or nature. This generation of kids is growing up in a world with little experience in real-time human interaction—only 24/7 stimulation.

A large natural area covered in giant pink stones with white rapids flowing through them as a man sets on a stone embracing the sights and sounds
I know I’m not Henry David Thoreau, but the 573 is my Walden.

I decided to disconnect from all the technology and connect with myself and nature. I’m actually writing this story from Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. I’m sitting alone on a large rock with nothing but the sound of the racing water crashing around me–an amazing symphony of sound to inspire my writing. No laptop, cell, emails or texts...just me, a pen, and a notepad. Old school. Yes, I’m old enough to write cursive. It’s like a secret code that most people under 21 can’t read—I love that.

A notebook's pages flutter in the breeze as it lays on large pink and grey stones
...just me, a pen, and a notepad.

I’ve been alone on this rock for over an hour, and I’m not lonely or wishing I could check my email or find out what’s happening on TikTok. I’m writing my thoughts in real-time, responding and reacting to my thoughts and environment as they unfold before me. It’s called living in real-time.

It’s a Tuesday morning, so there are hardly any people at Johnson shut-ins. That in and of itself is pretty unbelievable. Then I see a young family: Mom, Dad, a teenage daughter, and a pre-teen boy. Mom, Dad, and son are busy climbing on the rocks while the daughter stands with arms folded, mad at the world. I introduce myself and ask if I can take a picture of them taking photos. They agree and ask the girl to join them. She refuses. Mom tells me the daughter is upset because she can’t get service and, therefore, can’t text her friends. Dad says, “We’re not purists, but we can’t get any cell phone connection here, and it’s driving us all mad.” I honestly felt so sorry for them all.

A mom stops to take a snapshot of her son and husband with her phone as they climb the grey and pink rocks close to the white water rapids
Dad says, “We’re not purists, but we can’t get any cell phone connection here, and it’s driving us all mad.” I honestly felt so sorry for them all.

I’m not saying new technology is bad. I love my computers, iPhone, and all the rest. And I know every child needs to live within their generation, but what if letting our kids delve too deeply into the collective mind of cyberspace turns out to not be all that great? Are we creating a generation of kids who get no training for living in the moment, interacting face-to-face with others, connecting with nature, being creative, or having the ability to develop a disconnected self?

Two side by side pictures show different areas of a white water rapid river flowing through and around large stones
...subtract all that is unnecessary to come to terms with the small remainder of what’s important in this short visit to Mother Earth.

I’m a romantic at heart and a bit of a dreamer. As I sit here with my mind wandering, thinking of Henry David Thoreau and his quest for self-realization through solitude and nature, I look up occasionally and see other people at the Shut-ins using their cell phones to snap pictures. I’m wondering what will happen to those digital photos. Will they be deleted down the road to make room for others? Will they be lost if the phone is lost or broken? Will they ever be printed or valuable to anyone when that person leaves this earth?

Advertisement for First State Community Bank.  Men from a community are painting over graffiti, and looking happy as they improve their neighborhood

This Story is sponsored in part by First State Community Bank in Farmington, Missouri!

I know I’m not Henry David Thoreau, but the 573 is my Walden. For those unfamiliar with Thoreau and Walden, he was a famous writer and thinker in the 1800s who disconnected from society to explore nature and self. Thoreau embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living on July 4, 1845, when he moved to a small, one-room, self-built house in a forest around the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. In modern times, people often refer to Walden as the secret place where people go when they want to discover self-realization.

Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived...”

A large natural area covered in giant pink stones with white rapids flowing through them

In his writings, Thoreau often describes people as frittering away their lives with nonessential details. He advised people to subtract all that is unnecessary to come to terms with the small remainder of what’s important in this short visit to Mother Earth.

Now I’m asking myself if social media is a modern-day nonessential detail in life. Am I frittering my life away online? What is to be gained by being connected 100% of the time?

A beautifully remodeled kitchen with sunlight streaming in displays a mixed style of classic and contemporary

As I watch another family rush up and start snapping away with their cell phones, I again wonder what will happen to the photos. I’m thinking about the boxes stored away in my attic; boxes stuffed with photos, ticket stubs, flyers, letters from friends, birthday cards, brochures...hundreds and hundreds of bits of paper, prints, and negatives—all the evidence that clearly defines my existence on this earth. It dawns on me that I haven’t put anything in those boxes in more than 15 years. Today, I use emails to replace letters to my friends, text messages to replace phone conversations, and I have no hard copies of all the photos I’ve taken with my cell phone. I delete away my life’s memories when I tire of scrolling through them.

Advertisement for The City of Perryville, Missouri.  Stunning images of The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri.  Flowers, beautifully adorned chapel, a shrine with candles, a grotto, trees, and a beautiful park

My thoughts now turn back to that angry teenage girl. How will her life be documented? Will she simply go from one electronic device to the next and delete what’s not necessary to her at the moment? Will she regret deleting things? Will she ever have concert stubs? Will she have photos to hold in her hands when she is old? Will she have letters from her friends describing honest thoughts? If she does save any files, who will upload them after she’s gone? At the end of her life, will SHE simply be deleted?

Advertisement for The City of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  A picturesque view of beautiful green trees by the Mississippi River with the Cape Girardeau bridge reaching up into the bright blue skies

I can’t help but feel it’s imperative to teach our children the importance of breaking away from the collective virtual reality in which they are immersed and, instead, getting in touch with self and nature from time to time. New technologies are great, but do we still need to print things out for no reason other than to have a scrap of evidence that we lived? Do we need mementos to pass down to our children and their children: Things that say we existed as individuals with creative thoughts outside the collective? Hey, but what do I know?

Advertisement for WorkSPACE Co-working Space.  A woman raises her hands in the air and laughs with joy and relief with the text "Get out of the house.  Time to focus on business."

So, stuff that phone in the sunken sofa for safe keeping and Get Out There! Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park awaits. You never know what you will find or learn.

And be sure to check out some of these other amazing 573 favorite natural places, and find your own personal Walden!

Words and pics t. smugala (supreme leader 573 magazine)

Be sure to visit all of our awesome sponsors who make these stories possible!


bottom of page