Beach House Diaries: Reconnecting by Disconnecting

relaxing hammock beach house

Once the flurry of opening the beach house for the season is over, I slip into my vacation routine as easily as I do my worn deck shoes. As summer unfurls on Pictou Island, days follow familiar contours and activities take on the quality of ritual. The funny thing is that while such repetitiveness at home feels tedious -- even stifling -- folks tend to revel in it at the shore. Of course, the shapes our individual holiday routines take can be vastly different.

For those whose getaway creed is "it's the freakin' weekend, baby; I'm about to have me some fun" a vacation may revolve around daily happy hours and last calls at a favorite waterfront club. For me, it's about lazy days when swims are taken, games are played, campfires are laid and s'mores are made. The wrinkle is that to participate fully in such moments I must first "unplug" -- and that's no simple task in a world where Wi-Fi hot spots and cell phone towers multiply as quickly as Pictou Island's bunny population.

Apparently I'm not the only one who has trouble disconnecting. A 2012 Google study revealed that a whopping 80 percent of U.S. smartphone users won't leave home without their device... and that includes folks on vacation. An American Express survey added that 64 percent check their work email daily at their destination. Once you factor in over-sharing Facebook friends and textaholic relatives, the cyber onslaught is constant.

The good news is that a traditional beach house stay offers an easy "digital detox" as it pushes exactly the old-school buttons that make our otherwise indispensable gizmos seem superfluous. Even people who don't typically adhere to the less-is-more philosophy are often attracted to the idea of a waterside haven precisely because it fits into a soothing Norman Rockwell fantasy of an era when social networking meant fishing with friends and tweeting was the responsibility of birds.

Personally, I bought into the whole "life in the past lane" thing. My goal in building a beach house was to recreate for my kids the sort of childhood summers I had. I didn't literally plan to unplug, but the decision was forced on me by the fact that our place is off the grid. As a result, visiting here is like an episode of Breaking Amish in reverse: no TV, no reliable power source to charge batteries, no electricity. With that said, we're not entirely lacking in modern conveniences.

We do have iPods and can ration out music for a weekend by using one at a time, listening together via portable speakers, and we have a DVD player that operates off our truck's cigarette lighter. While that may seem like downgrading, I've discovered surprising upsides. Being stuck with each other's playlists, for example, meant my son developed a taste for Bruce Springsteen, and I became an honorary member of Macklemore's fan club. As for watching movies, when we toss blankets in the back of the pick-up and set the DVD player atop the cab, it feels like we're at our own private drive-in.

I confess that, after a decade of practice, there are still times when we find ourselves jonesing for a tech fix. I couldn't figure out my teenage daughter's sudden passion for cycling until I realized that she was surreptitiously pedaling to the island's community center, where free, public-use computers awaited. My husband (bless him!) is easier to read. When he stands on the bluff -- sporting a two-day beard and tattered shorts -- and frantically waves his arms, I know he's not trying to flag down a passing ship à la Tom Hanks in "Castaway." He's just trying to pick up a cell signal.

Nevertheless, we embrace the absence of electronic gizmos overall, having learned to see it not as a deprivation but rather as an invitation to engage with each other and the world we physically inhabit. In light of these benefits, trading Facebook for face time sounds like a good deal.

Next: 10 Tips for Unplugging at the Beach House

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Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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