Life with Limited Communications: How We Thrive with Crappy Internet

Life with Limited Communications: How We Thrive with Crappy Internet

I’m unable to answer all of the emails that I receive into my inbox everyday. Even though I do receive my fair share of electronic correspondence, my inability to reply to all messages is not likely a result of the inordinate amount of inquiries that I receive compared to many of you out there. The reason is that I live in a place with shitty Internet.

I have a 2-hour window each morning before most people in town are awake to get into my account and open and answer my emails. After that, people begin to chew up the ever so precious limited bandwidth that serves our community. In my head I envision people in town rolling out of bed to take a peak at their Facebook accounts or watch a video on Youtube before school or work while I struggle to open a reservation request that might result in a booking and some income for the Ranch. Our painfully slow Internet means that I can generally check emails only once a day. If I didn’t respond to an email this morning, it will simply have to wait until tomorrow.

To add to my current communication challenges, I don’t have a cell phone, much less a smart phone. The pressure seems to mount each day to get one. Given my administrative obligations as the director of Rancho Mastatal, all of this results in a daily confrontation that I strive to find balance with continuously. For those of you with poor Internet connections, which may only be a small minority of you reading this, what do you do when you simply can’t open an email that you know you should read and respond to as soon as possible? How do you react when you can’t attach a simple Excel spreadsheet to your email to send to a prospective client? In an age when businesses increasingly rely on the Internet for their survival, how has the Ranch been able to make ends meet for 15 years, the first 8 without even a phone in our town, in a world that today demands email responses in minutes or hours, not days or weeks?

Honestly, I don’t have a great answer or fully know. It’s an interesting dissertation topic for a future graduate student that loves our community. I think mostly it’s been a life-or-death (for the business, not us as humans) need. Somehow, we’ve been able to organize our work and lives to make it work, in spite of the poor odds in Vegas. We’ve persisted and persevered while the communications here have slowly improved. We’ve been forced to depend on our amazing library (with real books) for research and traditional means to build friendships, trust and a dedicated following that have kept us alive and mostly well.

Every 3 weeks, for almost a decade, I drove 2 hours to find a reasonably fast Internet connection. I also relied on a terribly annoying auto response message that asked those emailing to me to please be patient when waiting for a reply. Many of you probably remember (and still receive a watered down version of) the message that states that I’ll get back to you sometime within the next century. This is mainly how I assuaged and bought time with those interested in our project and “stayed on top” of bookings and guest visits early on in our evolution.

In the earliest days, I would wait in line at the public phone in San Miguel, 4 kilometers from Mastatal, to make bookings for our educational groups. If I had to make more than one call, I would have to get back in line to make the second. A third. Back in line. You catch my drift. This little exercise might take me half a day. Setting up homestays for our high school groups would take multiple days. It now takes me an hour by phone.

The current reality, fortunately, is that I’ll probably be able to respond to an email that you send to me within a week, and if it’s high priority, even sooner. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. While most of you enjoy life with high-speed wifi and 4g service, we struggle with a 3g network that’s reminiscent of my first email experience with AOL and dial up just out of the Peace Corps in the mid-90s. I haven’t come that far in the past 20 years, but I’ve come somewhere, and all this said, there’s great relief and many benefits in not owning a cell phone and being tied to the Internet 24/7. I am currently avoiding total dependence on modernity’s electronic leashes (or nooses) but also appreciate and recognize the great benefits that the Internet brings to me, my family, and our business. Without it we would struggle even more than we presently do to make financial ends meet and stay in touch with our families. My weekly drive to the highest point in the region to check phone messages has evolved to a predawn wakeup and email session in my cozy cob home, and I’ll take the latter any day of the week.

Visitors to the Ranch almost universally, eventually feel relief when they spend many days, weeks or months with us and are unable to stay uber connected to their digital lives back home. The Internet and cell phones are yet other additions to a continuous string of technologies that we have to learn to find a happy medium with and balance. Like so many of life’s conveniences, too much has proven over and over to destroy our mental and physical health in the long-run, and just like coffee, hooch and phone access, a little can and should go a long way.






We have a number of life changing workshops coming up.

Please share around if you know anyone who is ready for a trip to beautiful Costa Rica, a swim in the waterfalls, nourished with homemade meals, and challenged with an intensive educational experience.


The Ranch Crew