04 February 2015

3 Things I Learned From Being Phoneless

I'd like to share three things I have learned from being cellphone-less for a month. It was an accident, and the whole ordeal really pissed me off in the beginning. And there are still day when I curse the Sprint gods for imposing this on me. But, truly, I have learned some very valuable lessons over the past few weeks and experienced a real perspective shift around what it means and feels like to be an unadulterated observer on this planet.

1.) Sunsets and full moons are more beautiful through your eyes than a lens. Nature's sensory gifts are physically and emotionally moving when you are left to experience them 'live' and bask in their glory, instead of trying to capture them on a device. There were enough times over the past month when I felt a knee-jerk reaction to 'capture this!' that I became aware of how often I felt the need to remove myself from the present moment to digitally bottle it. Whether a visually pleasing plate of food, or sorbet sky on the way home from work, or my cats being especially hilarious... Instead of allowing all of my senses to process and enjoy the special moment on their own, my hand would instinctually dive into my purse to find my phone... to no avail. Phoneless, I was left to experience the moment to the fullest... noticing details and subtleties that I would have missed if I was swiping through filters and tapping my photo into perfect lighting and focus. Spared from likes, comments, and other digital distractions, my experiences become more meaningful and - surprisingly - more memorable. I do, however, acknowledge and commend photographers around the world whose life's work it is to bring the beauty of travel, landscapes, and experiences to those who will never have the opportunity to see those sights for themselves. Here, I'm calling out the people who stop to take a picture of a rose bush on their run, instead of literally smelling the roses. And the folks who take a picture of their latte before enjoying it, as if taking a picture makes it taste better or mean more. (Full disclosure: I was that person.) Look - it's ok to capture the special moments. But catch yourself when capturing them becomes more special than the moments themselves. I know you don't scroll through your camera roll to look at the 17 different sunset pics you've taken over the lifespan of your smartphone anyways. And their impact on your Insta followers is short-lived, at best.

2.) Looking up and around is much more rewarding than looking down. Catching the eye of a stranger. Witnessing a precious moment between a mom and her child. Dodging a stalled vehicle. Seeing a shooting star. When you can't look down and scroll through a social media feed or set random reminders while waiting in line at a coffee shop or at a traffic light, you have the opportunity to make meaningful soul connections with others and experience the raw beauty of life happening around you. You wouldn't believe how much you miss when your eyes are fixated on the blue-ish glow of your cellphone screen. It's both scary and bleak. I actually couldn't believe just how often I would default to my phone as an escape from simple everyday vulnerabilities or opportunities to relax with a still mind. Did I find it 'uncomfortable' standing outside the restaurant waiting to meet my friend for lunch, with nothing to occupy my eyes and hands? At first, yes. What is it about needing to look busy?! It had become habitual to always have my phone in hand as a way to look 'busy,' or 'important,' or just to avoid eye contact with another human being. Not possible when you're cellphone-less. So, instead, I would take in my surroundings, smile at other diners coming in, or have a moment of self-reflection. And you know what happens when you're not distracted? You're actually living and giving yourself a chance to process and decompress throughout the day. Which leads me to...

3.) 'Always on' KILLS thoughtfulness, integrity, and the ability to be truly present. When you can always check your email, respond to a text, and be reached, communication becomes much less meaningful. Did I miss some texts and calls that I would have liked to receive (a dinner invite, a funny pic, a call from my sister)? Yes. But (most of) the important folks, or people who really wanted to connect, tracked me down. Can you believe they didn't even have to resort to snail mail? And I had a more present, meaningful conversation with those people because of the effort they invested to reach me. Needing to make a more-than-two-second effort to reach someone really makes you take pause to consider the necessity and importance of your message, which ultimately forces you to be more thoughtful in your communication. It helps to cut out the pointless fillers that feign real connection, and it also encourages you to actually pick up the phone to have a deep conversation or true catch-up. Another interesting part of not being 'always on:' when you make a commitment to someone - like 'I'll meet you at the restaurant at 12:30' - there is no, 'I'm running late,' or 'Parking!' or 'I'm sitting at the table in the back corner.' You have to actually find each other. And actually be on time. And actually trust that you will both arrive, as planned. (Reminds me of an old black and white films, wherein people just miss each other... rounding the street corner before their lover dashes into view, tardy for their date.) There is a certain glitter and mystery around not having the ability to connect when you're out and about or set to have plans.  It requires integrity and trust. Trust that the person will follow through on their word, and trust that the Universe will deliver (or not). Finally, when you DO find your friend (assuming that they didn't get pulled over for texting-and-driving, or were running late from their spin class, or flat out forgot because their digital calendar didn't remind them) - you are totally present for your meeting. You don't say, 'hold that thought,' because your other friend is texting you to make weekend plans, or because you want to look something up on Google. You are completely and totally attentive and able to enjoy your company...or at least much more than you would have been if you courteously had your iPhone face down on the table.

Not having a phone has made me vulnerable. Vulnerable to wrong turns and missed communications. (Although, my understanding of side streets has certainly improved without the crutch of Waze.) It requires that I work harder to stay in touch with the people I love. It means that I have to wear a watch. It enables me to cut back on distractions and give my mind, and my lunch date, my full attention. This accidentally-off-the-grid period of time has been a true blessing. And whenever I do have a phone again, I will be exceptionally more mindful of when the phone is actually allowing me to connect, and when it's forging or sacrificing connection with the world and people I care about. I hope that you will take this to heart and feel how it resonates with you. Perhaps you didn't even recognize your habits, because it's become part of everyday life to roll over in the morning and start looking at your phone, or take one last peak at Facebook while your body and mind try to prepare for sleep. Start taking small steps to reclaim your attention span and vulnerability as an observer in your own life. It is truly rewarding.

Favorite new track, premiered yesterday. Other Lives, "Reconfiguration"
I live in the present. Moment to moment, moment to moment...