Last week I traded in my smartphone for a $25 cell phone that does not have a data plan or wifi or any of those features. It will take some getting used to. I'd grown comfortable with the mini-computer in my pocket for the last few years. Although, truth be told, I didn't utilize all the bells and whistles on the smartphone.
I started to grow concerned that my smartphone was causing me to lose my ability to be still in any given situation. It had become a reflex of perceived boredom. Use the phone in lines, on buses, when my lunch date went to the restroom. It was a way to redirect that discomfort of being still. After nearly a year and a half riding the bus to and from work, and recognizing that on each of those rides nearly 90% of the people on the bus were face down in their pocket computers, I started to feel a stirring inside me that grew louder each time I took note of the masses around me, myself included, stoned by the cell phone. Once I noticed it, I couldn't stop noticing it.
One particular day I stood at a train station during rush hour and saw a magnificent rainbow igniting the gloomy spring sky. Sheer joy and amazement washed over me as my inner child came out to express glee in the brilliant show. And it was heartbreakingly remarkable, too, that the other 15 or so people waiting for the train, all missed it because they were enthralled by something on their cell phones.
I am not a fan of the polarizing concepts of good and bad or right and wrong. I think life is far more complex than these dualities permit. So, my coming to terms with this realization isn't as simple as rejecting pocket technology culture. For me, I see the potential of checking out, missing life and not being able to be still, by using a smartphone. And that concerns me.
The impetus to trade in my smartphone was our upcoming trip. I am not sure I'd have considered this shift an option if we weren't heading out of the country for a year. Even still, we've had plenty of people advise us on why taking a smartphone on our trip is the right thing to do. My husband and I considered the trip ahead with a smartphone. The apps that would promise ease. The posting to Facebook or Instagram when something cool happened. The GPS. And we shuttered at the idea that all these conveniences would actually pull us out of the experience we want to have.
We're not going on vacation. We're heading out for a journey. One that we want to change us at our core. One we hope will build our characters, reduce our anxiety and enhance our self-reliance. Having a pocket computer, then, isn't the right choice for our trip. We want to figure things out, read maps, talk to locals, learn the language and stumble upon amazing, off-the-beaten path restaurants. Smartphones reduce the chances of serendipity and we want as much of it as we can tap into.
After a hiccup with my new not-so-smart phone (panicking because texting is a pain in the butt now), I've become way more comfortable with it. I love not being tempted into checking anything online when I think I am bored. Boredom, after all isn't actually a thing. It is the discomfort that happens when being still and observing is unfamiliar or unwanted. But in less than a week, I moved through that discomfort. I feel less obligated to check my phone when it dings and I don't think about pulling it out at dinner, in the car, sitting with my sweetheart, talking with friends, or while gazing at something magnificent, like a rainbow.
I feel relieved. Like I am out of the fast lane of life and there is more space for me to breathe.