Dateline: February 21, 2015
Since February 3rd... I have been without a phone. (No, for real. I’m serious. For real. No phone.)
Here's what I learned on my 18-day smartphone fast:
1- We are not nearly as present in and to our moments as we could be.
2- There's waaaaay more going right than there is wrong in any moment.
3- Constant contact has an emotional effect that is practically unnoticeable until you step out of the "sea of connectivity."
4- 'Phantom vibrations' leave you instantly when you know you have no phone.
5- We make way too much out of constant contact with/via our devices.
6- These devices (because they are much more than phones) are addictive.
7- No one dies without a phone; just the opposite, you can start to really live again.
8- Connectivity does ot equal connection.
I've truly had time to "reboot" as a human being by not having a phone or notifications to answer to constantly for the past 2 ½ weeks. No awkward moments masked over by checking the phone for this update or that. I actually got a chance to remember what awkward moments even feel like.
Truthfully, I freaked out for about 6 - 8 hours once I realized my phone had made its transition into the electronic aether. Not a hysterical breakdown, but definitely a noticeable feeling of anxiety and worry. However, without a phone and in a place where I knew I would not be able to get one anytime soon (I was on vacation... the fortunate accident happened in a hot tub...more on that later), I had an opportunity to watch myself and my reactions and then question them. It was a refreshing series of epiphanies. I was like a fish out of the fishbowl being shown the water for the first time. It was like, "Oooohhhh... so that's what this is? It's been this way the whole time? Why didn't someone tell me?" Even if someone had explained to me in extreme detail the anesthetic that is device/connectivity addiction, I wouldn't have understood. Not fully. Maybe theoretically, maybe philosophically; but not really, actually.
I didn't realize the anxiety and stress that a constant sense of urgency can cause. Feeling as though you always need to be reachable, feeling as though you must respond when someone (or something) beckons. This is stressful, people, and not in a good way. Further, I didn't realize that I was willingly and ofttimes gladly exposing myself to this nearly constant source of stress and anxiety by remaining in a state of constant connectivity.
Since not having a phone, I've changed some, expanded some. I got my new phone today, and I don't want to go back under the anesthesia.
1- won't put facebook or twitter on my phone
2- will use my phone's sleeping feature to turn off all notifications during my sleeping hours (except for emergencies)
3- will turn off all email notifications (except the one's from my clients)
4 - will turn off all push notifications from apps & such
5- will set my daily agenda before looking at email or notifications on any device
6- insist that my agenda is primary and that no other "notification" will trump my intentions for any moment or day
My dear friend and teacher, Ron Kidd, once used a phrase that keenly describes this “urgency anxiety” and the actions that it spawns. He called it having "spontaneous priorities." This brilliant device, this "smart" phone is a breeding ground for "spontaneous priorities;" those issues that continually present themselves as in need of your undivided attention, though you may have had other plans, other priorities, or another agenda altogether. Or worse yet, when you fail to set your own plans, priorities, and agenda, you can let this wonderful device do it for you, but then you never have a chance to drop your anchor and claim the ground on which you stand. You can find yourself adrift on a sea of spontaneity. Even improv has a skeleton, an infrastructure, a through-line. But, this electronically-induced variety of spontaneity is aimless, goalless, directionless. The only apparent goal is to set you perpetually adrift on a sea of yet-answered emails, texts, chats, IMs, notices, appointments, and alarms. This was punctuated in a very clear way for me because I was actually at sea when this episode occurred. I was literally adrift, but at the same time I never felt myself more solid, more grounded. Somewhere in there, I believe my soul was pleading for quiet. So, I sat in a tub of hot bubbling water with my phone forgotten in my back pocket, and my soul smiled and sighed in relief. You know, when I realized that my phone was in my pocket – about 30 seconds into my hot tub session – I calmly removed it, drained some of the water, set it to the side, and continued to relax and bask as we sailed into the sunset. A scenario of jumping out in horror and running to my room to try to resuscitate it ran through my mind at first… but I stayed. My agenda was to relax in that moment and not even the impending death of my phone would dissuade me; and that’s how this revolution & revelation began to unfold.
My Zen teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, used to say something to the effect of 'make your direction clear’... and 'only go straight.' I realize now that you must have a firm sense of the ground upon which you stand to do that. Truly, if you refuse to set your own priorities, someone - or some thing - will do it for you, and often without you even realizing it - just like a fish in water.
I had to admit to myself that if my phone had not been irreparably damaged and I had not been completely without the ability to replace it quickly, I would probably have never come to realize any of this. When it first happened, within a few hours I began a little mantra to myself to soothe the anxiety, and quite frankly, the hurt and loss I was feeling about it. That in itself was a sort of revelation: why am I semi-mourning a device? In the throes of my quasi-despairing, I kept saying to myself that there must be something in this that is absolutely fabulous, something great has to be in this situation. I knew that if I would just sit with it and allow it to be what it was without judging it, if I could just go on with my agenda of having fun and enjoying new places and new people – basically, if I could just "mind my business" – then I would eventually find the incident to be beneficial somehow. And that's exactly what happened.
The peace and quiet of my humanity began to slowly return.
That still small voice was more present and more accessible.
That feeling of awe and wonder at just being alive began to revive itself.
Nothing spectacular happened. No fireworks, no parades, just quiet, calm, and a place in my heart/mind opened up for reverence of the small things (and the large things, too); reverence for living and for life itself.
I breathe deeper on a more regular basis again.
I am truer to my intentions again.
I am more present more of the time again.
I know how to find directions & get around without GPS again.
I know how to "stay connected" without being enslaved to constant notifications again.
It occurs to me that I didn't learn anything new during this phoneless interlude - other than the face of the enemy, the way the anesthesia works and what it looks like - what I 'learned,' I really just remembered. These were all things that I knew before our phones got so smart. Without an uber-connected device on my person at all times, I had a real chance to return to center.
I won't go back under.
But, I know most of my friends and family are still under the spell. So, I have more room in my agenda for compassion when fuses are short and patience is thin because of the latest tweet about so-and-so or the urgent email or text that must be answered while in mid-conversation or the facebook feud that must be rectified immediately, if not sooner.
I won't go back under.
But if I do, for a moment, I know now what it feels like, what it looks like, and I have a remedy. I don't have a recipe for this remedy. It's a very individual and idosyncratic thing. What I can say is that whatever your route back to the light, I'm willing to bet that it starts with some kind of silence.
What I will do is use my devices to my aid & advantage and not be used by them to boost market share for telecom companies, social media moguls, and the endless chain of consumerist entities & sand traps that follow in the wake of being constantly contactable.
Set your own agenda.
Put your phone away for 2 weeks, and see what happens.
I can hear the "Girl, please!" echoing from across the internet horizon from some of you... a lot of you. But, if you are so bold and so daring, so adventurous and so brave as to try this for just 14 days, I know that you won't regret it. (Ok, for someone out there this is bound to backfire and ruin their entire life or something... yeah, this isn't for you... go back to your regularly scheduled program now - insert legal disclaimer here.)
I wasn't so strong and disciplined that I could just walk away from my phone. My phone had to be broken while I was out of the country for me to even be able to begin this leg of my journey. Nevertheless, it can be done. I could have gotten some cheap replacement phone while awaiting my new one. But I chose not to do that. I said, “I’ll live. I’ll be just fine. I may even enjoy it.” And, I have enjoyed it. If I can do it… you know the rest. I believe in each one of you. You can really do it! Yes, I used the internet sporadically to check up on things (and even to alert my phone company of the untimely demise of my phone and the phone manufacturer of my accidental damage claim). Yes, I was still able to talk to people on other people's phones if I wanted to and needed to. I just wasn't the slave/junkie with a smartphone habit who had to check-in every few minutes. I set certain times to check email, and when time was up, time was up. Period. Not by necessity, but by choice. I never really liked talking on the phone in the first place, so this was a total blessing and it didn't even need a disguise. When I did talk on the phone, I had a definite purpose for calling or taking a call. Not by necessity; by choice. (I only talked on the phone on maybe 3 or 4 occasions the entire time.)
Try it. You might like it. Join us in the land of the free.
Smartphone/connectivity freedom doesn’t look like a world without smartphones or the other devices that have connected large parts of the world like never before. Smartphone/connectivity freedom looks like a world that is aware & mindful of the subtle – and not-so-subtle – effects of constant and perhaps excessive connectivity & smartphone use. Smartphone/connectivity freedom is your smartphone & other devices on mindfulness…any questions? To achieve this freedom, all you have to do is step outside of the fishbowl long enough to see the water that you’re swimming in. Learn from what you see (and feel). Then you practice what you learn. Repeat as necessary. That is all.
In the words of the illustrious George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, "free your mind and your ass will follow." And may the wisdom of Rumi guide us all into our future of smartphone/connectivity freedom: “Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”