A few weeks ago, my mother pointed out that she rarely ever saw me without my iPhone in my hand. While I just sort of shrugged in reply and checked my GroupMe chats, she continued with a mini-tirade about how all of the connectedness was ruining my generation. I don’t usually take technology advice from a woman who still uses a flip phone and struggles to pick up her voicemail, but still, I started to think about it. How much time do I really spend looking at my phone and not looking at the world around me? What was I missing because of it? Was it possible that my technophobe mother may be right?
In the interest of finding out, I decided to take a “disconnected day”: one solid day where I wouldn’t tweet a less than mediocre joke, post a picture of my name that a Starbucks barista effed up, or check in on Facebook saying that I was at the gyno. I wouldn’t be able to text my besties, read my email while eating a salad or watching TV, or even look at how my latest TSM column was doing. My anxiety level went through the roof just thinking about it, but I was committed.
One Friday night, not trusting my own level of self-control (I mean, really, I can’t control myself around a bag of M&Ms) I handed over my laptop, iPhone, and iPad to the one person I knew wouldn’t give them back no matter how much I begged: my mom, of course. Armed with an old-school (but very cute) notebook and pen, I set about documenting my day.
8:30 a.m.: My alarm clock–the one I had to dig out of a closet somewhere, because I’ve been using my phone as a clock for years–goes off. I instinctively reach for my phone to check what notifications had come in overnight. A moment of panic sets in when it’s not there, and I scramble for a minute before I realize what today is. I lie back on my pillows and try to reign in the sense of fear that’s taken over.
9:13 a.m.: As I’m getting ready to go out and take a run, I realize that all of my music is–you guessed it–on my phone. I guess it’s just going to be me and nature today.
9:17 a.m.: As I run the same route I take every day, I start to see some things that I didn’t notice before when I was up in my own head, lost in my music. I notice that my neighbors got a new car, that the lawn two doors down really needed to be mowed, that the people across the street got a football helmet mailbox. My run is a little bit slower because I don’t have the music pumping me up, but it’s almost worth it.
11:47 a.m.: After a post-run shower, I settle down with a snack in front of the TV. Some could argue that a true day of disconnectedness would also involve giving up the TV, but baby steps, okay?
12:02 p.m.: After flipping through the channels, I choose “A Cinderella Story,” which is one of my favorites. As I watch, I find myself getting really involved in the story, despite watching Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray fall in “love” probably 30 times before. Two questions arise: 1) Why did I ever think Chad Michael Murray was hot? and 2) How did I never realize how unrealistic this movie was before? (But really, it’s still great).
2:09 p.m.: I decide that it’s time to go all-in, turn off the TV, and pick up a book. My reading is usually done with the TV on in the background and my phone nearby, so it’s a novel (pun intended) experience to sit and read with no distractions. Much like the movie, I find myself getting lost in the tale.
4:16 p.m.: Nap time. Because if you can’t tweet, you might as well nap.
5:53 p.m.: With plans for dinner and a girls’ night, it’s time to get my ass in gear. As I decide what to wear, I find that it’s really difficult to do that without texting my friends to see what they are wearing. At what point did I lose the ability to pick my own clothes?
7:30 p.m.: I arrive at the restaurant and discover I’m the only one there. I made the effort to show up on time because I couldn’t text my friends to tell them I would be late, as I so often do. Apparently, they weren’t of the same mindset. As I sit and wait at the bar with no phone to distract me, I begin to feel oddly lonely. With no one to text and nothing to look at, it felt as though I was truly alone, which is something I so rarely feel.
7:47 p.m.: My friends have finally arrived. I sort of want to tell them that it was rude to leave me sitting there waiting, but the first words out of their mouths are, “Sorry we’re late! Beth texted you!” Does texting that you are late now absolve the rudeness of being late? A question to ponder…
9:21 p.m.: As we are catching up over dinner, I notice that each of my three friends has her phone out on the table, occasionally waking it up to see if she missed a notification. Not having a phone to check myself, I am both jealous and aggravated–jealous for the obvious reasons, but aggravated because they are all disengaged from what’s happening at the table. As the conversation continues, I notice there’s a lot of “What?”, “Huh?”, and “uh huhs” happening while they look at their phones. I sort want to scream, “PUT THAT THING AWAY AND PAY ATTENTION,” but just because I’ve embarked on this crazy adventure, it doesn’t mean everyone has to.
10:38 p.m.: As we head to the bar, we snap selfies on their phones, which they post to their Instagrams. I start to feel the anxiety again. How would everyone know I was having a fabulous time with my friends if I wasn’t tweeting, posting, or instagramming it about it? How will that hot Tinder guy I’ve been chatting with know how cute I look if I don’t post a picture? I decide a couple shots of vodka will help drive the anxiety away.
1:58 a.m.: As I crawl into bed, I have the urge to text that guy I shouldn’t text. As I lie there with no phone, I think about it…and probably sober up a little. Before, I would just have sent the text and suffered the consequences. But since I’m not able to do it immediately, I rationalize that it isn’t a good idea anyway, which is something I should do more often.
2:13 a.m.: As I drift off to sleep, and I reflect on my day. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Weird, but not bad. But thank the Lord my mom is bringing my stuff to breakfast tomorrow.
In some ways, my mom was right. Please don’t ever tell her I said that, but she sort of knew what she was talking about. When I didn’t have the ability to be wired in all of the time, I could be more cognizant of what was going on around me. I actively listened to my friends when they were talking, instead of half-listening and looking at Twitter. I didn’t stupidly send a text that I couldn’t take back. I was more considerate because my phone didn’t give me the opportunity not to be. I could appreciate the things I saw without an Instagram filter.
Am I going to leave my iPhone at home all the time? Hell no. Being connected has its advantages, too. It allows me to keep in touch with friends who live all over the country, to be knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world, and to connect with the awesome TSM readers. But I might leave it in my bag when I’m at dinner with my friends or in my room as it charges when I go for a run. Sometimes being present in the real world means disconnecting a bit from the digital one. .