The Rant: Purposely Lost

Originally posted on April 20, 2017 at 1:48 am

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez
And it’s Easter time, too
And your gravity fails
And negativity don’t pull you through
—Bob Dylan, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

I like getting lost.

Maybe that statement needs some clarification. Not lost like “starve to death in an old school bus” lost. More like I know where I am in relation to at least two points, but the route I am taking between them is indirect, unclear or unknown. Perhaps even all three at once.

Getting lost these days isn’t like it used to be. There are a lot of very smart people making it much more difficult to become so. Some of those people are probably also working very hard to make sure that whatever app you are using to locate your place in the world is also able to monetize your location data, but that’s a rabbit hole that might take a tin-foil hat to explore properly.

In theory, we should be able to just ride out into the unknown without much planning. But instead, we need our hands to be held. From the time we go out the door to the time we return, we follow someone else’s digital breadcrumbs, measuring our performance against some other poor schmuck who, just like us, also spent more than half the ride checking stats and directions on a screen.

People who know me might say my fondness for getting lost is actually a dislike of planning anything past the bare minimum of ideas. There may be some truth to that, but at the same time, my brain seems happiest when it has some problems to solve. The real issue arises with technology that does all the problem solving for me. I get bored. I look at screens enough while working. I don’t need that shit on my bike.

I don’t mean to turn this into an anti-technology rant. Location technologies help me find places I would never have found just wandering around. From a painfully hip, yet incredibly tasty, bakery in Vancouver to the closest Citi Bike kiosk in New York City (and the fastest route from Brooklyn to an armory in Manhattan), my smartphone can be a good friend.

But relying solely on technology to find new adventures is not always the best choice. Local knowledge, gut feelings and wandering around are a lot more fulfilling than asking Yelp for recommendations.

Getting lost, as I want to get lost, might be a dying art. And there are no guarantees that the roads less traveled won’t be shit shows of overgrown swamps, steep hills, dead ends or bars that can’t serve booze without violating some liquor law. But those are the things of great stories and life experiences. Following turn-by-turn instructions to the highest-reviewed business establishments is certainly a safer option than just heading in what seems like the correct direction. But it isn’t like most of us are heading out into the wilderness. There is little danger involved in taking a few wrong turns these days.


So, for this first issue of 2017, I might as well make a resolution or two. First, explore more. That doesn’t mean research via whatever technology I have at my disposal, but rather getting out to more places that aren’t already part of someone’s GPS track. Second, and probably more importantly, make a conscious effort to interact with more individuals while doing so. Inviting more people along for the ride, asking locals for advice, talking to people in businesses about the local area. Looking at online reviews for this info is not the same experience.

The odd part about all of this? The very thing that adds to the disease can help fight it, too. Every time I think about deleting a social media account, said social media actually hooks me up with a ride I would have missed, or gets people talking about future plans to explore. So, third, use social media with a purpose, not just as a way to kill small bits of time that add up to hours of staring at a phone over the course of a year. This will probably mean more email use, and maybe even more talking on (not swiping through) the phone.

Last, my kids are going to learn how to read a map and compass. These are skills that should not be lost. Navigating without a power source or cell-phone signal is not a parlor trick from an analog past. It is the type of skill that fosters independence and confidence — both of which you’ll need if you’re going to get yourself purposely lost and make it out the other side with a good story to tell rather than becoming a cautionary tale.

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