Remember unmediated life?

By Caitlin Kelly


If my European journey taught me anything — or reminded me more powerfully than ever before — it’s to live, and savor, an unmediated life.

By which I mean, one experienced firsthand, feet-first, immersed in all of it.

Not, as has become normal/affordable/easy for me — and so many of us — a world and its wonders seen and heard only through a screen or scrim, whether social media or explained by the traditional mass media of newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

The soft, smooth cobblestones of Rovinj — a small seaside town in Croatia — were silky beneath my bare feet, the light snaking around corners as the sun moved through the sky, every hour offering a different tableau.

I’d have known none of this without my (grateful!) physical presence.



Ironically, I follow several cool, adventurous people on Twitter whose lives are devoted to professional exploration, including aviation and wildlife photographers and three archeologists.

I love seeing what they find, but this is also, I realize, a little weird.

I need to go find this stuff myself!

Sadly, it’s now considered normal — starting in infancy — to spend hours consuming others’ visions and impressions and analysis of the world, instead of gathering every sense impression ourselves. (As I write this on our balcony in the early morning, I hear traffic on the bridge, a passing train and birds in the trees. The air is fresh and cool, the sun gilding the balcony’s outer edge.)

Plato’s cave, and our addiction to shadows, pales in the face of this.

I work alone at home in the suburbs of New York, with no kids or pets to distract me. I  work full-time freelance, which means I have no boss or coworkers with whom to share ideas or jokes or talk about our weekends.

Most of my friends here are too busy to actually get together in person, which all combines to create isolation, and so I’ve slipped into the tempting bad habit of feeling connected to the world through consuming social media — instead of socializing face to face.

If I want to actually be with someone, it takes me an hour each way, and up to $25 in train fare or parking fees, to go into Manhattan.

But if I don’t, I’m essentially a self-imposed shut-in, which is  — my six supersocial weeks in Europe reminded me  — a terrible choice for mental health.

My time in Europe, literally, exposed me to hundreds of strangers, some of whom became new friends, like an archeologist and travel blogger and translator, all of whom live in Berlin, all of whom had only been Twitter and blog pals before they became real, corporeal human beings sharing space with me, laughing and joking and hugging hello.




I was also struck by people’s gentleness with me, like the man on the busy, crowded Tube stairs in London, watching me slowly and painfully climb beside him, who asked: “Are you OK?”

People can be perfectly nice on social media, but they’re not beside you.

They’re not — as two young men did — ready to carry your heavy suitcase up (!) three flights of stairs.

In Croatia, I sat for hours in a cafe with three new friends, talking and talking and talking.


No one stared into their phones.

No one stared into their laptop.

No one was rushing off to something more important.


What we were doing — just being together, enjoying one another’s company and conversation — was more important.



Are you living life firsthand?




24 thoughts on “Remember unmediated life?

  1. carolyn

    It’s funny you should post this today as I was looking at my IG feed this morning and thought, “I’m so glad that @visitscotland is there since I will probably never get there myself.” Health issues and finances make it difficult for me to travel and without social media I wouldn’t be able to enjoy these places that I so long to see. So, there are advantages to it, but then again, I do try to live myself in the present and not on my phone. Now my adult children, some days I just want to rip the phones out of their hands and throw it into a lake!

    1. You make a very good point — and thanks for sharing that perspective. Yes, for sure, it’s better to be able to enjoy it from a distance than not at all, and it IS a real privilege to be able to get up and go places.

      As for phone addiction, I hate it. I immediately lose interest in anyone, social or business, who keeps looking at their phone when we are in one another’s company.

  2. When I was in Croatia, it never occurred to me to walk on the cobblestones barefoot – I feel I must go back now for this experience. I do walk barefoot in my backyard quite often, especially if I spy a mango on the tree in my backyard from my verandah when I look up from my laptop, and simply must have it, right now. LOL.

    1. It was mostly — in my case — practical! My right knee was injured and my shoes would slip and the street before my hotel was quite steep, which all combined to make barefoot walking safer! The stones are lovely, but very slippery.

      A mango tree in your backyard. How cool is that?! Where do you live?

  3. I agree with you totally about losing interest in people who are continually looking into their phone. Boring! Not to mention poor social skills. Your post inspired me to repost my “Why do we travel?” text. Take a look at the cool hotel website at the end.

    I wanted to ask you – that hotel that you stayed in in Venice, The Hotel Flora. Do you recommend it, despite the teeny-tiny shower? I want to go to Venice in December.

    1. I hate that!

      will do.

      Loved the Flora. It is on an interior street (i.e. no canal views) but is dead quiet and the garden is lovely, as is the bar area. It’s all very small but very attractive and I think you’d really enjoy it. They are also now renting out a flat (ask them about it) but it’s quite large for one person.

  4. i agree with you, and with every day, i believe this more and try to live this way. it is so important to experience things firsthand, and can be challenging at times, but so worth it. i love your description of sitting on your balcony and taking on what was going on around you. shows your level of mindfulness and being in the moment.

    1. This trip totally re-calibrated me.

      I’m consuming FAR less media in every form and very deliberately shutting off the laptop to go DO things. I was so happy in Europe and I needed to figure out why — yes, a vacation, of course, and in beautiful places, but I also live in an interesting place with lots of beauty.

      It was a very good wake-up call.

      1. two thoughts here. the first, is that yes, we all need holidays, to get out of our comfort zones and routines, to open ourselves up to interact and learn about the world firsthand. secondly, there are moments in our lives that will suddenly cause an unexpected paradigm shift and these change our lives and reset what we do and who we are. powerful –

      2. Yes to both.

        This was the longest time off I had taken in 30 years, at least on the road and alone for most of it. I took a summer off in 1989 (!) and have taken a month off at a time since then. But being alone and injured added another dimension as well, as people were so kind and helpful and I didn’t expect that.

        Those final two weeks made me ready to come home to Jose, friends, even to work. I’m also getting my knee back with PT and rest so that’s a relief.

  5. Another great post, Caitlin.
    Those of us who are older at least had the advantage of growing up with face-to-face socializing and in-person experience being dominant in our lives. The younger generation doesn’t have those advantages and may have to reach even harder for personal real-life experiences and mindfulness.

    1. Thanks! 🙂

      So true.

      I hate the phrase “digital native” because it’s ageist and creates job discrimination — but it’s very true that we grew up seeing people in person, or not at all. No video chats, no Internet and long-distance phone calls were a huge extravagance! I do not envy those who grew up, and are growing up, attached to a screen as their main source of information and emotional connection.

      No screen is going to hold your hand at times of fear, grief or joy.

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  7. CRGardenJoe

    I think you’re right–“being there” is increasingly important in our mediated experience. One of my annual joys is a 400-mile, week-long bicycle ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI (named after the state’s leading newspaper, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). At the speed of a bicycle, it makes me “feel” and see Iowa in a way that neither media nor driving there by car can compete with. I didn’t complete the whole ride this year due to minor health issues, but still had a great time–and I think the sense of “being there” in person is one of the joys of RAGBRAI. I wrote about it on one of my other blogs:

    1. That sounds amazing…

      I am always surprised (why?) when I walk somewhere and see SO much detail I miss when driving (obviously) through it. I feel this way about canoeing and horseback riding — anything that gets us really close to the world SLOWLY.

      We’ll be taking a break soon on an island near NYC and I look forward to more of that, hopefully including kayaking.

  8. Very thoughtful and timely piece. I’ve spent the month in Hawaii, and have given a great deal of thought to exactly the subject you wrote about. I am on disability, work from home, am an artist and a writer. I know that isolating and making my way through life on the computer aren’t healthy for me. Thanks for reminding me of this.

    1. A month in Hawaii!!! How glorious. 🙂 I was there once a long time ago and it’s on our list to return — long flight from NY.

      Thanks for reading it and glad that this post resonated. It’s very difficult if you’re housebound not to become a shut-in.

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