“I have a theory — not a very good one — that the reason Google is so hot to develop self-driving cars is that time behind the wheel is the last significant part of our waking lives in which it’s inconvenient to use the internet. But that’s exactly why I prize long road trips, especially lately, in this era of gruesome political news and ceaseless social-media conflict: ambitious drives are a good excuse for being disconnected. Though it’s funny that “disconnected” is the word we use, since paying attention to what’s in front of you in the here and now used to be thought of as enlightening.
A few weeks back it fell to me to deliver a carful of books and household items to my wife, who was teaching in Las Vegas. From our home in western Montana, it’s a journey of almost nine hundred miles, most of them on I-15, a thinly populated north–south route that passes through only one major urban area, Salt Lake City. I’ve done the drive at least a dozen times, usually with my satellite radio playing and my phone turned on, but this time I decided to banish all distractions. “Read not the Times, Read the Eternities,” wrote Thoreau. Look around, I think he meant.”