Unplugged.Posted: June 13, 2012
The phantom vibration in my pocket from the iPhone that wasn’t there was the least of it.
Yesterday I bit the Apple. I did what I was warned never to do. I put all my technology down and walked away. For twelve hours.
I’m blessed to commute by ferry. Having left my iPhone, iPad, and laptop locked away in my office (as much from me as from any would-be thieves) I set out on foot for the fifteen-minute walk from my office to the boat.
I played with the now impotent headphones in my pocket nervously. The first thing I noticed was the birds. Spring had sprung and they played call and response even amongst the office buildings and industrial landscape.
The next thing was the sirens. Goddamn but there are a lot of sirens in the city. Who knew? I wondered which were Police versus Fire or Ambulances. I feel sure I used to know. Was it my imagination or were some more urgent than others? Maybe just nearer?
I soon passed the Children’s Museum (lots of chortles and squeeeels) and arrived at the boat.
That’s when it hit me.
I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge tripping back through time or Patrick Swayze in “Ghost.” That’s a bad feeling. On so many levels.
Virtually everyone was heads down. They took no notice. Most wore headphones. Some scrunched over mobile phones (still lots of Blackberries!). Technology is not improving our posture, I can tell you. Many tapped away on iPads or read Kindles. A few Type-A’s banged away on laptops but they were high-achiever showoffs.
I could have been butt naked and on fire and nobody would have been the wiser. Every person was locked away in his or her own little Private Idaho, alone and oblivious to everyone and everything surrounding them.
Even the boat’s bar had been compromised. A crowd of mostly financial types stood around in club ties, vodka sodas in one hand and phones in the other. Every thirty-seconds or so– regardless of whether or not they were mid-sentence– they not-so-furtively glanced and scrolled.
Certainly ten years ago this would have been social ineptitude of the highest order. Now nobody batted an eye.
I got off the boat a half hour later. A light drizzle was falling. I wondered if my daughter’s soccer practice had been interrupted and dismissed early. Did my wife pick her up? Did a teammate’s family drive her home? Was she standing there under a tree, mop of soaked red hair pasted to her forehead waiting, waiting, waiting for her Dad to arrive?
How would I know without my fu*&ing phone!?
I put on the radio to distract myself. I normally stream from my phone via Bluetooth. I don’t even have the pre-sets programmed in the car. Oh my God. What an audio wasteland of cheese and snake oil. My ears wept. I found NPR and thanked my Maker.
I screeched into the parking lot like Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Practice was still in session. No calls had been made to Social Services. Whew.
I got home. Had dinner. Was noticeably distracted by the lack of distractions. This must be what it’s like to wake from a coma after many years. I finally found focus and learned many things I didn’t know about my kids’ school, our dog’s incorrigible prey drive, and the neighbors. Bucolic my ass!
After dinner and dishes we checked homework. It’s hard to be a role model where complex fractions are concerned. Can’t we just check Khan Academy and…
After the kids went to bed my wife and I talked. Not skyped. Talked. While hard at first, this was prime iPad hour after all, I nevertheless got the hang of it after some time. New Analog Me and my wife talked about plans for the summer, projects we’d like to do around the house, how Mormons could possibly be Christian… You know. The usual.
We had a glass of wine or three and went to bed. I felt tired but very much awake.
I woke up once during the night thinking I’d heard the phone vibrating on the bedside table, but fell back to sleep with surprising ease.
Then morning came. Like the picture of God reaching for Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (and missing it by ‘that much’) I reached reflexively and futilely for a phone that was not there.
I showered, dressed, and had breakfast with the family. We talked about what we might do over the weekend in between their various activities. I prepped to leave at once not really wanting to but simultaneously feeling like things were very much in a good place at the same time.
I headed to the boat with a very “quiet mind” I think the Buddhists call it.
I hopped the ferry and in forty-five minutes was back in the office. I unlocked the desk drawer like Pandora (the myth, not the app– wait, that’s weird) and pulled out the iPhone first. No calls. Two texts. Both stupid.
I fired up the laptop. Emails were something different altogether. Hundreds of business emails and dozens in my Gmail since 6PM the night before.
With a mighty wave of my mouse I mass-deleted like a man (self) possessed. I ended up with a handful of “important” emails that certainly could have waited and did.
I was back in the saddle, but changed. The rest of the day I didn’t check as much, didn’t click so often. I began to sit apart from my ‘stuff’.
I wrote a lot. I made phone calls. Get this– I even thought about stuff deeply.
For me, technology had addled my mind to the point where I was becoming a mile wide and an inch deep. I made incremental progress on dozens of things but finished the final nail on precious few.
Putting it all down. Leaning back. Stepping back. It gave me a feeling of satisfaction and wholeness I hadn’t had in some time.
Technology is awesome and getting better every day. There’s just too goddamn much of it.
Left unchecked it had moved from a tool, to a crutch, to a vice. That’s no good.
So my advice to you is try going cold turkey. Walk away. It will still be there when you get back. When you bite the apple you won’t fall from grace. You’ll be happier in the garden.
(This article originally appeared in iMedia)