Bar Harbor, Maine. August 2023.


In 2014, my family took our first trip to Bar Harbor. We returned this summer, nine years later, yet the town had preserved everything as it was just for us. Bar Harbor was stuck in the 2010s—eternally idyllic, irresistibly charming. At a smoothie joint, I discovered that the town had yet to find out about oat milk. When asked if she could substitute whole milk for oat, the lady at the counter furrowed her brows and looked at me as if to say, “How would you milk an oat?” Coffee at Sunday Brunch was poured into diner mugs, affably off-white, with half-inch thick rims that guaranteed a dribble of spilled liquid following every sip. I craved Asian cuisine, but the Global Thai Program had yet to leave its mark on Bar Harbor. I thought of the delicious lotus flower that Percy Jackson ate in The Lightning Thief¹. All of the townspeople had eaten it, so I indulged too. I forgot about plant-based milks and ChatGPT and let myself be sucked into their collective psyche. I wanted to be stuck in the casino.


In Bar Harbor, I have maximized what is real. Or at least I think I have. On our 10-day hiking trip, my ideal self grips the mountain, eats the wild blueberries, and doesn’t reach for her phone once.


Bar Harbor is named after the sandbar that connects the seaside town to a small island. Families cross the bar to the island at low tide, and the majority of them return back two hours later. An unlucky few, too invested in stacking rocks and probing into the sparse forests of the island, absentmindedly look out later only to see the bar gone. Stranded on the island, they are forced to call a water taxi or wait 24 hours until the water lowers and the bar rises out again. 


The bar—a graceful ticking time bomb, narrowing minute by minute, carrying with it a constant reminder that the ground under your feet will soon disappear—has somehow simultaneously escaped the limitations of temporality. The warnings about the incoming tide stay on your mind, yet you are never inclined to pull out your phone and check the time. There is a certain sweetness in that two hour period you are given to explore before the sand bar sinks below the depths of the waves and the territory is rightfully returned to the sea. Following a half-mile of footprints along the bar leads you to rock-pile haven—dozens of cairns of varying sizes and heights—and you, too, become a stone stacker. I bent down and searched for the biggest and flattest stone I could find. 


I laid down my first stone. Every rock I reached for was smooth and of even thickness—perfect for stacking. Each stone in my vicinity had been part of a cairn yesterday, and the day before that. Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus that “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” My ideal self agrees. She found beauty in the inevitable: within two hours, the waves would topple my cairn and wash the stones back into an even surface. 


Princeton, New Jersey. April 2024.


It is no longer summer. I posted throwback photos of my Bar Harbor trip from my dorm room in New Jersey, where we were just hit with 3 consecutive days of windy, umbrella-snapping rain. I’ve invested in a high-tech VORTEX umbrella that boasts of an “anti-inversion” technology. The weather has driven me to huddle under my covers, seeking company from my phone. After deleting TikTok and Instagram Reels, I found myself scrolling absentmindedly on Youtube Shorts until I reached a distastefully saturated 5-Minute Crafts video featuring a woman with big round eyes. The round-eyed woman was attempting to repair a hole in her table using instant ramen noodles and hot glue. Snapping out of my haze, I put down my phone, unable to recall a single short-form video I’d watched in the last 20 minutes. In its search for perpetual stimulation, my little peanut brain had resorted to watching clickbait content. Admittedly, like for many college students, my phone is a decently significant part of my life. 


Writing about it, though, upsets my inner romantic. I retch at the idea of mentioning TikTok in a piece of prose—a revulsion elicited, too, upon watching a character in a well-crafted film pull out their phone and type, each text message they send appearing on-screen for the audience to read in real time (it’s even worse if the texts include emojis). Maybe I am pretentious. At least, I admit to being fond of the analog. I’ve always wanted a record player. I know a Kindle is more convenient than paperbacks, but I refuse to buy one. I am sympathetic towards the “indie” teenager who uses wired headphones “for the aesthetic.” He posts an Instagram photo of himself reading a book to show everyone how “down to earth” he is. In middle school, the cool kids were the ones who first got iPhones. Now, I envy those around me who don’t have Instagram. 


To some extent, it is about keeping up a persona: perhaps I want people to know I’m too busy living life to care about social media. In this day and age, when the internet has heightened our awareness of our public image, performance is inevitable—whether it is conscious or not. Yet performance persists even offline. The mere presence of the digital world is enough to create a feeling of inauthenticity in my actions. Haunted by the internet, I feel fake even when I deliberately choose not to update my digital profile: surely, I am just trying to appear mysterious. I wish to signal to the public that I am “unplugged”—above the need for validation on a social media platform.


I am repulsed by the inclusion of text messaging in a cinematic representation of human connection because I think it renders the movie less genuine. I know that the most valuable experiences take place in real life. I hear that “social media is fake.” Embracing the internet feels inauthentic, but ignoring it feels so, too. What, then, is authenticity? And how does one find it? 


I could eat the lotus flower. I’ll take my photos in black and white, print them for the family photo album rather than share them with my followers online. But the digitized world we live in is unavoidable, and if that is the case, living in the past would feel like a mere performance. I don’t want to exist in an imitation of the past, seeking the pleasure of a lifestyle that is not mine. The lady at the smoothie joint was genuinely unaware of the existence of oat milk, but I can’t pretend that I don’t count the number of likes my Instagram stories get each time (if it’s more than eight, I’ll know it was a winner).


My desired persona builds a cairn without feeling compelled to capture it on her phone before the sea washes it away (I did take a photo, and I posted it). But none of the tourists resisted the urge to pull out their phones, either: parents snapped pictures of their kids skipping stones, and hikers took selfies in the rain. They looked happy. I guess they’ve found an acceptable balance. I should too.


Recently, I saw a child at a restaurant scroll through TikTok on her iPhone, play minecraft on her iPad, and eat a bowl of noodles, all at the same time. If that is our future, we are all doomed. But I acknowledge that a movie set on a present-day college campus cannot avoid the incorporation of technology. As long as it doesn’t overuse emojis, I think I would enjoy it.

¹ The Lotus Flower is an addictive treat that causes Percy Jackson and his friends to enjoy themselves excessively and lose track of time, effectively trapping them in The Lotus Hotel and Casino. Many visitors of the Casino wander in, eat the Lotus Flower, and pop out 10 years later thinking that they’re still living in the previous decade.

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