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Beautiful moments without technology

“We’ll be there at 6:00,” our future guests predict in their email.

I live just north of Yellowstone National Park—it’s one of the most scenic, relaxing places in North America. It’s also a place that, not surprisingly, gets a lot of summer tourism. I know that in reality, our guests probably won’t arrive until around 8:00 or 9:00 PM, and that’s okay.

Bison are going to block the road. Construction will absolutely slow traffic. Hopefully our visitors will pull over to take a quick, unplanned stroll to a waterfall or watch bald eagle. And get this—Yellowstone doesn’t have cell service throughout the majority of the park; folks just have to go with the flow and stop relying on their devices for communication, quick distractions, and social media.

There are few times in our highly connected, fast paced developed world where this experience can happen. A lot of people argue that Yellowstone needs more cell towers so guests can be connected at all times. My visits to the park are getting interesting. When I was a kid, people watched Old Faithful go off. About ten years ago, everyone started watching it through the screens on devices as they filmed and snapped photos.

old faithful photographing

Photo by Katie Clemons

Today, people aren’t even facing the geyser—they’re holding selfie sticks with the eruption posed perfectly behind them. My grandma, a deep lover of Yellowstone, would be furious. “Well fiddlesticks!” she’d say. “They drove all this way to see the eruption, and now they’re literally turning their backs to it and not even watching?”

If we have one chance to experience something, what’s the best way to do it? A great photo or a great memory? Something for other people to see or something to experience for ourselves?

I ask these questions not because I’m against technology, but because I’m in favor of connection—face-to-face with other people and with eyes open to the environment around us.

bison at yellowstone

I say this as an introvert, too. Technology can’t, for example, give us the smell of Old Faithful or the cooled mist from its steam on our faces. You also can’t get those things when you literally turn your back to the experience.

I’ve written about the value of teaching our kids how to navigate without technology. You could argue that city kids don’t need this knowledge. How is constant connectivity is fine for them? I want my son to be able to navigate the subway without an app. I want him to get on the bus and feel comfortable asking the driver if it’s the right bus for him. I’m worried that if he always has a device in his back pocket, he’ll never know those things.

Writing an introspective journal helps me feel more joy and gratitude in life, and when I feel that, I really want to make efforts to be more present in my life—and in my son’s life as he grows so fast. I feel like writing our stories gives us the opportunity to experience the beauty twice: first as we live the moments, and then as we reflect on them. (I really enjoy the writing prompts in Gadanke’s She journal for women and Time Capsule for kids. There’s even a Montana travel journal!) The art of writing our stories makes us more conscious of how fleeting time and experiences really are. I think it also makes us lean in a bit more to the sounds and smells … as horrible as bison poop is.

I just don’t want anyone to look back at their visit to Yellowstone—or any other once-in-a-lifetime place—and miss the beauty of the journey.

Our porch light will still be on when you get here.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    It’s such a tough balance with technology. I find myself wanting to enjoy the moment but latter wishing I had taken photos to remember the experience. But I definitely don’t want to view life through a screen. It’s much better in person!

    • KC

      Ditto! I really enjoy the photos I have, and sometimes have wished I’d gotten photos at additional times (or had spent a smidge more time getting things well-lit or well-framed), but on the other hand, it’s great living life without being preoccupied with snagging photos. It’s a balance.

  2. Lori

    Beautifully said.

  3. Marie Perdriau

    Sometimes it feels as if we hoard experiences with a scarcity mindset, that if we cannot display our memories they might not be enough against another’s gallery of joy. Rarely are the photographed moments the ones my children recall. More often they are the moments my camera was misplaced and my hands were empty, eyes present and unfiltered with uncluttered connection.

    I love that your home is located in a place that naturally reinforces a practice of patience.

  4. Lynn - Encore Voyage

    I’m glad I grew up just southwest of “the park,” in a time where technology was not so prevalent. I remember vividly the smell of the paint pots, and back then, the black bears to be seen along the road every time we drove through. You don’t capture those memories with a selfie stick!

  5. Missy June

    The lack of connectivity is one of the reasons I love our nearby Smoky Mountain National Park, as well! We enter and truly feel like we have escaped the rigors of life for a few hours. It’s wonderful~!

  6. Rebecca

    I remember my visit to Yellowstone pre technology ruling our world. My best and favorite memory was getting a bit too close and personal to some elk. It was my first time getting chased by one. I also remember this beautiful pool it was the most vivid blue due to the algae living in it or something it was very pretty. Of course Old faithful was awesome too. Thanks for the memories pre cellphone and pre selfish selfies.

  7. Marilyn M

    Thank you for your thoughts. I vividly recall a survival trek in the Wind River area of Wyoming. Our group had hiked through dense fog all day, and when we dropped into the bowl where we were to set up camp, the fog began to rise. As it rose, we were treated with the most magnificent view of a moose and her calf standing in one of the lakes. I’m sure I took a picture, but what is locked in my memory is the experience. And…because I am such a visual person, I can still see that scene as clearly today as if it were just a few minutes ago.

  8. bdaiss

    This post. In entirety. I happen to work for one of the big park concessionaires, and it’s my job to travel to our parks once a year conducting sustainability audits. As a vacationer, I want the non-connected park. I want to get out on the trail, see the spectacular sites, enjoy the sounds and smells. I want to take pictures now and then. As someone there on business: boy is it a pain when I can’t connect with my family in the off hours. 🙂 I applaud Yellowstone for standing firm on the no-tv’s and limited number of phones in their rooms when others have not. Although unless we remove all the outlets from rooms, ti doesn’t stop people from bringing their laptops/tablets/portable DVD’s. And I’m sure you would not be surprised at the crazy insane amount of bad reviews the Parks and their partners get for not having connectivity available.

    I’m very lucky in that my company encourages me to bring my family along when I can. My kids know they are very blessed to have already visited such majestic places as Yellowstone, Tetons, Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Zion, Rocky Mountain, and Mount Rushmore (as well as a ton of smaller parks/memorials/monuments on the way to or from these major players). We’re hoping to add Crater Lake to the list this year…but we’ll see what happens to plane ticket prices. We focus on getting out, getting lost, and enjoying the quiet. We’re also old school in that we often travel 8+ hours in the car WITHOUT any devices allowed. Friends are often flabbergasted and confounded on how we do it. You know what we do? We talk. We play games. We sing at the top of our lungs. We strengthen our bond. It’s what family vacation is all about.

  9. Angela

    The joys of Montana life or other places in the rural west. All the places without cell service. You end up learning the places where calls will just drop. I live in Helena but mere miles from my house cell service disappears for miles and miles.

    We travel to friends homes that are a few hours away with minimal tech, often because moving screens and roads that wind around mountains are a recipe for being car sick. 🙂 But the last trip to my friend’s house, kids saw four bald eagles.

  10. Vanessa

    I feel very grateful that my age kind of makes me the ‘last’ generation to grow up with skills like map reading. I’ve never bought much into ‘having’ to have the perfect shot for social media. Though photography is a personal hobby of mine, but I don’t share it online. Really interesting 🙂

  11. Stephenie

    YES, yes and yes. I also find it soooo frustrating when I am in a gorgeous, amazing natural environment and everyone is looking at it only long enough to figure out how to best frame their selfie for instagram. SIGH. I always feel the urge to say “get off your screen and LIVE, people!”
    🙂 Ah well, I guess all I can do is remind myself to slow down and look, not just try to compose the best pic for a Facebook post.

  12. Chelsea Rotunno

    I’m so glad you were able to put this into words with such a perfect real-life example of exactly what is happening in our culture. I feel it most when I am video-ing my kids singing in a performance–did I even experience the show? Did I get the chance to soak in the moment? Nope. But I got a low-quality video of the moment–that I’ll probably never bother preserving for future use. The geyser is behind me. Whoa.

  13. Pam

    Anti – technology is my mission this Lent. It is an uphill battle of wills.

    I am negotiating Sunday off and Friday evening only one family film or a board game. This is an election I plan to win by any means possible.


  14. kate

    preach it sister!!! if we dont experience the things that we have right in front of us, how will we know anything??? Not from behind a lens..but really and truly being there??? I ask this all of the time, if you are not in the moment, what will you actually remember when and if (god forbid) you have Alzheimer’s? Do you think the people that are stricken with this sickness remember photos? No they remember the emotion that was conveyed at the time..the happiness..the sadness..the dont get that from a photo. Wake up people!! Live the life you are living in the present and stop being worried about how cool your instgram is going to look!!

  15. Angie

    Amen to all of this! I love having photos of the everyday moments with my kids, but sometimes I notice that I’m so focused on getting that great shot, that I totally miss the opportunity for connection with them and what they are doing. I started taking intentional breaks from photo-taking during certain times/activities with them so that I’m not distracted. That has gradually led to just less photo-taking in general, especially as the kids get older. Sometimes I will wish I had a photo of this or that, but for the most part I feel like I’ve found that healthy balance.

  16. Crystal Friedl

    You know I adore getting to capture a beautiful moment in our lives with a picture, but sometimes the best hung that can happen to me in a day is for my phone memory to say it’s full or for the battery to die and then I don’t even have to worry about whether or not something would make a good picture. I’ve gotten some really good pictures, but I’ve lived far more beautiful moments without a picture to capture it.

  17. Chris Durheim

    Thanks for the great reminder! We’ll be visiting Yellowstone this summer with our 3 daughters (first time for all of us) and we’ve found that with each successive road-trip we, thankfully, are taking fewer pictures and focusing more on absorbing everything face-to-face.

  18. Regina

    This is exactly how I feel, and what I try to teach my kids. You framed the problem and solution beautifully. I was telling my daughter the other day that people did not always have “smartphones,” that the first one came out around the time she was born, and before that, the world was a very different place. Although I am not sure I ever want to go back to the era when everyone had a cell phone and talked very loudly on it in public. : )

  19. Diana

    This is spot-on. I have noticed that the more photos I take of an event or experience, the less I actually remember what happened. It’s a catch-22 for me, because I also love to have good photos afterwards–I can remember places with near-photographic precision but I do not remember faces well. (I recognize faces just fine but can’t pull up a picture of a person in my brain.)

    So I’ve taken to purposely soaking in the moment as well as I can, and then purposely framing a photo to capture what’s happening. By doing both intentionally, I kinda get the best of both worlds 🙂 Just having a different mindset when taking the photo (not “quick, let me grab this photo so I can remember later!” but “let me grab a photo of what I’m enjoying so much right now–isn’t this great?!”) makes a huge difference.

    Also, amen to navigating without maps. Ken Jennings talks about that some in his book Maphead; if you’ve never read it, you might enjoy it 🙂

  20. Anna

    We lived for awhile close to Glacier National Park. I loved the time spend on hikes, with nature, no cell phone signal for distractions. 🙂 I had a chance to visit Yellowstone National Park this summer. It is true that technology can interfere with our enjoyment. It is nice to have a camera or phone to record some of those moments. You have to find the balance that is right for you.

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