In middle school, I went to a camp that was probably similar to a lot of other camps in that it focused on "wilderness" skills.
We lived in a cabin in the middle of the woods, with a toilet in a distant building and very little electricity.
We hiked to an outpost where there was just a concrete floor and roof, and we all had to crowd in to sleep while it rained all night.
We took a trip to Assateague Island where we slept on the beach in a tent during a thunderstorm (not something I really recommend). We had to bring in the water we needed for the day in buckets.
There was an additional program where you had to be able to start a fire, identify 10 kinds of trees, feed and care for a baby cow and show other skills.
Most importantly, to my preteen-mind, we couldn't watch TV for two whole weeks. We were seemingly in the middle of nowhere, cut off from "the real world."
In reality, we were just in semi-rural Baltimore County and probably 10 minutes from a 7-Eleven and a supermarket.
But that wasn't the point. The point was, we were learning "survival skills," which adults seemed to consider a good thing.
At least, they weren't especially sympathetic when someone complained about having to clean up a campsite or carry water or stop listening to their CD player.
I actually ended up being kind of proud of my ability to last two weeks with no TV.
The camp situation gave you bragging rights, the equivalent of "When I was your age, we walked 10 miles in the snow, barefoot…" – but on a middle-school level.
Fast-forward to 2013. Now the lack of TV seems kind of quaint and the real danger is being away from a smartphone or some other computer for more than five minutes.
Nowadays, people (at least people my age) seem more proud of their attachment to electronics than their ability to live without them.
When I see a list called something like, "Top Six Things You Can't Live Without," almost everyone puts "iPhone" or "computer" as number 1 or 2.
When something computer-related crashes, everything comes to a standstill, even in situations where it's safe to say you don't absolutely need a computer right then and there.
I've even seen very young kids who have their own computer or mp3 player, and they get very upset when those get taken away.
People often talk about how important it is to teach kids computer skills because that's what they need to survive in "the real world."
Of course, if someone doesn't know their way around a computer (which I often see with older people, for example, in public libraries), they're going to have a really hard time in life.
But when I think about "survival skills," I almost think it's just as important to be able to live without things as it is to be able to live with them.
I've always liked it when the power goes out and everybody freaks out. Even if it's just on a weekend, or a time when there's really nothing going on, you know everyone will be very distraught until the power comes back on.
Sometimes you can get by for a couple of hours with a bunch of candles and a Scrabble board (or a mean bathroom game like "Bloody Mary," if you're still in middle school), but that only lasts so long.
I always like to think about how things would have been 200 years ago. If the power had gone out, no one would have noticed, because it wasn't on in the first place.
No one had refrigerators, freezers or air-conditioners that needed electricity to run. There weren't any traffic lights, airports, computer servers, remote controls or even digital clocks.
People had food, transportation, entertainment and they knew what time it was, all without using electricity, day in and day out.
So sometimes I wonder who has a generally better chance of "surviving" in "the real world" – people who lived without air-conditioning, or people whose daily food supply and entire livelihood depends on computers and electricity running constantly.
It's a tough call, actually. (I honestly couldn't live without air-conditioning.)
But it is something worth thinking about as technology continues to ramp up and the best minds of this generation stay busy creating even more things we won't be able to live without.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun