Summers at the cottage just aren't what they used to be
It's a lovely evening at my wife's shared summer home, next to Lake Winnipesaukee in Tuftonboro, N.H. The water is perfectly calm, and the night is clear; the occasional late August shooting star rushes up the skydome to the Milky Way.
We are doing what families do at lakeside cottages. One of my sons is arranging music on his computer. Another is triaging his Spotify playlist, while simultaneously watching "Veep" on HBO's online service, GO. My wife has logged onto her work server to update some assignments, and I'm watching episode four of the gripping Netflix series "Happy Valley" on my laptop.
Thank God for wireless, eh? In previous summers, with no television, satellite dish, or cable service here, to say nothing of spotty cellphone coverage, we were thrown back on our modest devices. We played our patented version of full-contact Sorry - we beat up the winner - or the delightfully inane question-and-answer game, Apples to Apples. The card games Uno and Slamwich were entertainment staples.
I can even remember evenings when - and this dates me, I know - we read books.
About a year ago, a cousin wanted to install wireless so she and her family could work up at the lake. I objected, but I don't own any shares in the house. I don't attend shareholder meetings, and I'm not sure if this came up for a vote. I doubt anyone would have opposed it anyway.
Primarily, I worried that the children who came here for a week or two would spend their evenings glued to a screen, watching movies, awards shows, and whatnot. I objected, because I thought the Internet would transform an unplugged haven into a place like everywhere else.
That's what has happened.
I didn't want or need the wireless. I've worked up here for about 10 summers. I used to scribble my columns on those half-sized, yellow legal pads, and then motor over to one of the two public libraries within hailing distance. A few years ago, the tiny supermarket down the hill at 19 Mile Bay installed wireless, plus a table and four chairs near the potato chips rack.
So, for several years, I developed a routine: Row at daybreak, talk to the loons, and then drive to 19 Mile Bay to buy three newspapers and wolf down a cinnamon roll. There I would log on to the Internet to check the Red Sox score - this part of New Hampshire gets the Boston Globe's early edition, which covers the game through about seven innings - and work for a while.
Later in the day, I could always write in the lakeside house and work at the libraries any time I wanted. In the evenings - well, I told you what we did in the evenings. Sometimes we even went canoeing. We sure as heck didn't watch movies on our computers.
Now life is so much more simple. There is no need to buy newspapers, as we can read them - or not, as the case may be - online. There is no need to go to the library and interact with those noisome books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, and shushing librarians. Now we can chew the clickbait on Buzzfeed and Reddit, monitor the slow-motion implosion of Upworthy, or try to decipher must-read new media websites like vox.com - all in the comfort of our beautiful lakeside home!
Maybe we should install a LakeCam to see if there's enough wind for sailing. That would save us the trouble of looking out the window. I'm not so sure I have time for sailing, though. As I write this, Miley Cyrus is trending on Twitter. Really.
I know what you are thinking: Hey, doofus - disconnect the wireless, if it bothers you so much. But technology and human nature flow in one direction, along the path of least resistance. Case in point: the rapidly disappearing manual transmission in cars, which is going the way of full-contact Sorry. Put a different way: When is the last time you spoke to a teller at a bank?
In for a bit, in for a megabyte, I say. What's more, I want to see the remaining episodes of "Happy Valley." This is one terrific show.
Alex Beam is the author of "American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church." He wrote this guest commentary for the Boston Globe.
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