Saturday, August 10, 2019

Unplugged



Phone junkie me.

When I first realized I might need to rethink my relationship with technology, I took baby steps.  You know what I mean: I only checked Instagram ONCE an hour instead of repeatedly, every few minutes.  I waited maybe five minutes after getting up to check Twitter, instead of taking the phone into the bathroom with me.  I put the phone on my nightstand instead of cradling it to sleep.  I mean, come on, I didn't have a problem.  I wasn't one of those phone people.  I could actually get through a dinner with someone by just sideways glancing at the phone on the table as notifications came in.  It wasn't like I picked it up.  (Well, not much.) 



I really thought I was just fine...


I know.
I had a healthy balance of tech and real life, I told myself.  I knew when to close up my laptop.  But I have to be on social media, I said.  It's part of what I do as a writer and a photographer.  It's how people connect now, I said.  It's a good thing!  Sure, it's weird to feel compelled to post so many formerly private parts of my life but that's what we do now!  Isn't it great to see everyone's vacation pictures in real time?  Doesn't everyone look fabulous with blur filters?  Isn't it fun to notice the differences between a friend's Snapchat story and their Instagram story of the same event? Aren't we all  brilliantly informed by repeatedly checking breaking news on all our feeds?  Aren't we taking part in democracy by liking our friends' bold political tweets?  Isn't it great to be able to do all this networking?! 



Don't judge me

I used my phone for work and play, right?  Just like everybody?

The thing that clued me into the fact that I might be more attached to my device than I realized was when I dropped it into the toilet.  (Okay, so I didn't wait five minutes to pick it up on that particular morning!) I watched as my iPhone 6 shimmered brightly under water, its little app icons brilliantly glowing, its high res screen beautifully shining.  I watched in horror as my beloved object of so much joy, connection and inspiration was slowly sinking, like Jack in that fateful scene from Titanic...

My phone, like Jack, reached out from underwater as it died.  It kept hopefully notifying me of texts from my family, as it sank to the bottom of the bowl.  

Where did you go? 

My sister's text appeared.

LOL look at this 

My nephew sent a meme from Reddit.

Your Amazon package has been delivered

I saw it on the screen as -- almost like magic -- I heard the UPS guy ring my doorbell.

The last thing I saw before my phone drowned and the screen anticlimactically turned black was:

New For You in Kindle:

I was haunted that I didn't see what the book was. My phone, like Jack, was gone.

My first thought (other than OMG how do I fish my phone out of THE TOILET?!) was panic.  I felt disconnected.  I felt naked and alone.  I felt like everything I knew and loved had been cut off from me and I wasn't sure what to do with myself. 

I wouldn't have admitted all this, of course.  I mean... it was only a phone, right?  I took part in digital culture, but it wasn't my entire life.  Surely I could manage until I got to the AT&T store to get a replacement.  I was due for an upgrade, anyway!  

How hard could it be?

That morning, I felt kind of like Tom Hanks when he washed up on that island in Castaway.  I had managed to fish the phone out of the toilet, and I looked at it the way he looked at one of his soggy, sandy FedEx packages.  

I felt anxious and unsettled.  I felt out of touch.  When I took my little girl to a drama class that afternoon, I felt like I was endangering us both by DRIVING WITHOUT A PHONE!  

It was then that I started thinking about how my life had changed since the introduction of smartphones and social media.  I'd been blissfully tech-adoring for decades.  I had written for the web for more years than I'd written for print.  I'd blogged for almost 10 years.  I oversaw my daughter's online classes for school.  

But something had changed.  I started to look back fondly remembering the days when email and the Internet were only on the laptop, and when texts required some serious numberpad dexterity to execute. 


It had been nice when we had full access to the Internet, but a phone was just a phone.  

I started to remember long phone calls with friends that had become weirdly out of place in the texting age. I remember when we'd catch up in person, instead of checking a heavily curated public feed.  I remember when we didn't put out the equivalent of daily personal press releases, when we weren't expected to be available at all times, when we went to bed without staring until our eyes glazed over at an endless scroll from a tiny screen. 

I remember conversations that never, ever, ever started with "I saw on Facebook..." 

I remember when going somewhere didn't require that I chronicle it for a collection of people I've known from virtually all walks of my life. I remember when I didn't give a crap if any of those people approved of what I had done that day ... that it would have never occurred to me to ask any of them. 

Those days started to seem kind of great.     

I ended up not getting to the AT&T store the day my phone drowned.  I decided to go the next morning.  Maybe I was just being contrary.  I think part of me wanted to prove that I didn't care about a device.  I think I wanted to see what I felt like that night as I got into bed without texting or Twitter or YouTube or Internet research.  

As my husband played online chess on his phone next to me that night, I nestled into my pillow and looked into the dark, familiar room around me and thought... 


Oh god I miss my phone.

I wasn't sure what do do without it.  But maybe, I thought ... maybe I should find out.