All of us know the sensation: You take a mind-blowing trip to New Orleans or Paris for 10 days and savor every last second of it. But if the trip is a really good one, you will spend the next 10 months, or years, going over your photos, reading your journal again and again, re-creating stray moments in the French Quarter or in Notre Dame, trying to incorporate aspects of what you've seen and felt in your life. The journey serves up the food that you can digest only when you're back home, sitting still.
This is nothing new. What is new is that more and more of us are living at the speed of light rather than the speed of life. With 40 international travelers for every one in 1960 and the human race accumulating 12 times more information every hour as exists in the entire Library of Congress, more and more of us have begun to hunger for a way to step out of the bombardment of experience and turn it into meaning -- or peace of mind at least.
Guests spend hundreds of dollars a night on "black hole" resorts, one of whose amenities is the chance to hand over your iPhone or iPad on arrival and enjoy a "digital detox" for a few days. Elegant hotels offer "no WiFi" on Thursdays or walking courses to free you from your devices and your congested habits. Monasteries and retreat houses serving up emptiness and simplicity get booked up six months in advance. And many of my friends have almost registered sadness as airlines advertise WiFi at 39,000 feet; the plane had become the one place where we could escape breaking news, status updates, tweets, texts and phone calls.
About 700 attendees at TED’s conference, held March 16 to 20, experienced the Delta “Stillness in Motion Experience,” which was inspired by a quote from a recent book by Pico Iyer: “In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” Photo Credit: Ryan Lash/TED
I've been traveling uninterruptedly for almost half a century now, and I've noticed how travel has moved from an emphasis on weight to an emphasis on lightness. When I was going to school by plane from the age of 9, the big luxury often seemed to have a lot of space; now the great luxury is having a lot of time. When in my 18th year I was spending every season on a different continent, I dreamed of staying in hotels that looked like palaces; now I, and many others, hunger for a spa.
And when I began writing, going to Cuba or Tibet was a huge adventure; now we can see aspects of those cultures even on our smartphones, not to mention in our hometowns. It's going nowhere that has come to seem like the biggest treat. Nothing looks more sumptuous than some empty space in one's calendar, or one's head.
Hence, the new lure of going somewhere where you can afford to do nothing. Of taking a hike into a wilderness where there's no cell phone reception. Of recovering what we need most and sometimes get least these days: a sense of intimacy, of attention and of absorption. With the World Health Organization naming stress as "the health epidemic of the 21st century," one in every three American corporations has found itself introducing stress-reduction programs for its workers.