If you created a spectrum, and put freewheeling adventurers on one side, I, sadly, would fall on the opposite end. Still, even my cautious heart stirred a bit when I read a recent New Yorker article by Rachel Monroe about a hashtag called #vanlife.  The article focused on a couple – Emily King and Corey Smith – who, in the winter of 2013, purchased a Volkswagen van, left New England in a snowstorm, and headed south. Soon, the couple’s popular Instagram “Where’s My Office Now?” had drawn enough interest to gain them corporate sponsorships (including GoWesty – a company that services and sells parts for Volkswagen vans). And the engine of their popularity appears to reside in these gorgeous shots – the back doors of the van open to an ocean backdrop, for example (and frequent pics of “the pretty van girl and the woodsy van guy” and their rescue dog don’t hurt either). SNL’s Chris Farley and his motivational advice notwithstanding,  the hashtag’s popularity has soared, and Smith even does “donation-based vanlife consulting” to help others live their “vanlife vision.”

How freeing, and tempting, it must be to drop out of the rat race and drive around exploring the best vistas the continent can offer. Yet all is not serene on the road. King, the primary breadwinner, finds it hard to email from a moving vehicle. GoWesty has done two major overhauls on the Vanagon, and the couple spent four months in their parents’ homes while King recovered from an intestinal parasite she’d picked up backpacking in Montana. And of course, there are the smells (food, dog, human, etc) and frequent challenges to privacy (as King puts it, “The trash is in our face, the dishes are in our face. Corey is in my face, I’m in his face. Any personality conflicts, ego conflicts, it’s all right there”). In a lifestyle funded by “likes,” the challenge to create online content is relentless. A seemingly carefree photo that “looks like heaven” to one commenter can take half an hour to pose and get the shot right. The question Monroe’s article raises is inescapable: Can vanlife really be as exquisite as it seems?

In Eugene Peterson’s masterful work on pastoral disciplines, Working the Angles, he recounts the story of the Greek god Prometheus, who sought to free humans of their misery through the following means: removing an awareness of the day of death (mortality), granting them “blind hopes” of what humans could become (ambition), and offering them the gift of fire (what Peterson calls “the energy that became technology”).

By this act, Prometheus sets us on the way we have continued: unmindful of limits, setting goals unrelated to the actual conditions of our humanity, and possessing the technical means to change the conditions under which we live. We don’t have to put up with things as they are. Things can be better; we have the means to accomplish whatever we want to do…The awareness of our mortality is lost to us….As it is we have the technology of the gods without the wisdom of the gods, without the foresight of the gods.

I wonder if the Promethean gifts of modern life (vans, mobile offices, and the ability to eke out a living as a social media “micro-influencer”) promise more than they could ever deliver. Those two-dimensional Instagram photos which “look like heaven” obscure the parasites, odors, and interpersonal tension of close quarters.

Peterson mourns the fact that our society often has “revised and condensed” the Prometheus story, presenting it “not as a tragedy but as a triumph” — indeed, a “gateway to utopia.” Unfortunately, “the other parts of the story — amnesia regarding death, unguided ambition, the daily renewed suffering that is a consequence of living without wisdom in defiance of our human nature — are edited out.”

I wish these vanlifers nothing but safe travels and joyful excursions. Yet for all of us who dream of escape, I pray that technological innovations will not “edit out” the wisdom of reckoning with a world where engines wear and tempers flare and true spontaneity refuses to be staged. I wish them the joy of discovering what Peterson says our “pastoral ancestors” learned by setting “themselves in opposition to this Promethean spirit” and “proceeding from a very different source, from prayer: cultivating a grace-filled relationship with God, not defiantly plotting an ambitious rivalry against him.” So with the psalmist we pray, ‘teach us to number our days,’ not just curate them.