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I went offline for a week. Don’t leave!

This is not a diatribe about social media making people antisocial, smartphones being dumb, or people texting without communicating. I hate those articles as much as you do.

Technology is a good thing. It’s anything built by humans to make life better, a definition that includes everything from iPads to agriculture, from 4G to pitch forks. Basically every human alive is surrounded by technology constantly. Plenty of technologies predicted to destroy society Technologies Predicted To Redeem Or Destroy Society & What They Teach Us About The Web Technologies Predicted To Redeem Or Destroy Society & What They Teach Us About The Web The Internet makes censorship impossible and will bring down corrupt regimes around the world. It will lead to an era of absolute transparency, which will inevitably lead to more equality and more justice. Disagree? Try... Read More ended up making it better, even if some people take longer to admit this than others.

Having said that, stepping away from technology to enter natural places – leaving the world of the man-made and entering the wild – provides perspective.

A Martian Landscape

I recently took a trip to Utah – if you haven’t been there, picture Mars. Everything is red, dust is everywhere and the landscape is downright alien. I spent a lot of time thinking about time, which is inevitable: every layer you see represents thousands, if not millions, of years of pre-human history.

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(Someday we’ll all be gone, and all that will remain of humanity will be a thin layer of plastic).

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There are vast areas with so many layers cut so deep leaving so much desolation that you can’t imagine anything living here.

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But here’s the thing: something always does. Life is stubborn. Life finds a spot and sticks to it. We, as living things, have an impulse to spread, to explore, to find new places – because all of us want to find that place where we can thrive.

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My wife Kathy (who took all of these photos) and I climbed a sandstone mountain. Apparently it’s made of the rock bits that used to be the Appalachian mountains – the pointed tops of the now-rounded mountains eroded and blew away to Utah millions of years ago. It’s hot, even in the shade, and there’s no water to be seen anywhere.

Until we get to this hidden canyon. Suddenly everything is lush, and I see maple trees. In Utah.

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I grew up in Ontario: I know a maple tree when I see one. But I haven’t seen a single maple tree in the forests of Colorado, where I live now, or anywhere southwest of Iowa really. I didn’t think they existed out here.

Yet I found maple, in the desert.

At some point a seed somehow got here, and now there are maple trees in a desert canyon. I’ve no idea how common this is, but it blew my mind.

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And we kept finding other niches: cracks in the sandstone with slow drips of water, feeding ferns. Ants, everywhere, gathering whatever can be found. Layers of bacteria and fungus spread over desert sand, taking hundreds of years to establish itself until the entire visible landscape is covered.

Life spreads everywhere. Seeds blow far and wide, heading to millions of places in the hope it can succeed in just one.

And when life does succeed at finding a place it can thrive, it doesn’t stop spreading: it uses the niche to grow more seeds, to keep spreading further, until the whole world is covered and even the deserts have maple trees somewhere.

Time Is The Ultimate Power

With enough time, mountains rise and collapse; rivers turn into canyons. With enough time, lichen can cover rocks, eventually forming a layer of biomass dense enough to  support grass – and then trees. Nature took its time to get where it is, and the result is beauty beyond anything we can create.

But what does this have to do with humans? To put it simply, talent is interest pursued over time. Nothing in nature is instant, and the same goes for improving yourself.

So try something new. Pick a programming language to learn How To Pick A Programming Language To Learn Today & Get A Great Job In 2 Years How To Pick A Programming Language To Learn Today & Get A Great Job In 2 Years It can take years of dedicated work to become a truly good programmer; so is there a way to choose the right language to start from today, in order to get hired tomorrow? Read More – you might end up with a new career. Maybe become an engaged learner and finish a few online courses 4 Tips To Finish A Boring Online Course By Being A More Engaged Learner 4 Tips To Finish A Boring Online Course By Being A More Engaged Learner Online courses are curses in disguise. In many ways, they're tough and boring. How do you complete such a dull experience without going insane? We do have a few tips that might help. Read More .

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Just know that it won’t come easily – you will only master these skills if you’re willing to invest a little bit of time, every day, until it becomes a habit. Humans learn skills faster than lichens cover mountains, but that doesn’t mean this won’t take time. Don’t expect it to.

And know that you might fail. But if you want to do big things, you need to try a lot, fail a lot, and not stop trying just because you’ve already succeeded. It’s what we’re all wired to do by millions of years of conditioning, because it’s what’s worked for life up until this point – it’s how we ended up covering this planet with life. There’s no sense stopping now.

Keep trying, and allow yourself to move on if you fail. You’ll never know where you might thrive if you don’t try everything.

What Are You Going To Try?

So I want to know: what thing do you plan to do to become better? Let’s make some plans together in the comments.

  1. Philip Bates
    September 5, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Really interesting article, Justin.

    I went to Cornwall on holiday last year and had no internet and no phone signal. It was infuriating. But a holiday is a holiday and it all worked out. I found that, while I wanted signal for emergencies, it really wasn't the be-all and end-all. I think I'm generally a person who appreciates nature, but sometimes the old camera-phone can stop me from fully absorbing.

    And of course, in those brief instances where you get signal and internet, you appreciate even more!

  2. DrJohn
    September 2, 2014 at 4:05 am

    Very good article!

    Was an unhappy farmer for 15 years, now am an MIS professor. Been on two Outward Bounds that changed my life! One in Canyon Lands in Utah and one in Nepal. I spend several weeks away from Internet connectivity in the summer, Rocky Mountain National Park west of a Colorado Springs. It makes a HUGE difference!

    John

    • Saikat B
      September 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      From a farmer to an MIS professor, that's quite a journey. I looked up Outward Bounds. It is quite an interesting concept.

      There have been a few studies which have shown "tech dependency" is harming our attention spans and creating a belief system that we should be connected every day.

      I wonder do we take time to "simply think" and daydream anymore -- it is such a vital ingredient for good health.

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