Monday, April 14, 2014

Disconnected & Disoriented

Last Saturday, my cell phone broke.

Sincere apologies to my 8th Grade English teacher Mrs. Gordon from Valparaiso's Thomas Jefferson Junior High for using the passive tense. That reflects a subtle intent to avoid my own role in the demise of said Motorola Razor. But seriously, it had been locking up and sending out shut down reports more often than this year's school district. The slight tapping on the screen Saturday at 11am was my frustrated attempt to get it back on track.

I didn't know my fingernail was so strong ... 

Anyway, last Saturday, my cell phone broke.

I was on my way out with a friend when the unthinkable occurred. So I couldn't do anything immediately. There I was downtown Detroit with no way to communicate with the outside world. No way of knowing if someone was trying to reach me. Nothing I could do at that moment would inform me if I'd been messaged on Facebook or texted by my son. What if someone new was following me on Twitter? What if my daughter wanted me to bring home milk or some other grocery item, how would I know? How annoying is that? What if someone wanted to make plans? NO one calls my home number. I don't even check my messages on my home phone. No idea why I keep it except I've had that same number for 25 years and I can't bring myself to part with it. My kids don't even use that phone. I'm pretty confident only telemarketers realize I have a land line. But, anyway, there I was ... disconnected and discovering how completely reliant I was on an item that fits in the palm of my hand to foster, nurture, preserve and protect my human encounters.

This once state-of-the-art device linked me with friends, family and possibilities. But it was now a useless paperweight displaying a screen the shade of a newly acquired bruise. I looked at it confused and discovered how quickly I became distracted, wondering if someone had called, emailed, messaged or texted. 

It was completely disorienting and disconcerting. And as I looked at this defunct electronic device, I realized how dependent I was on an item that charged me monthly for data and air-time (I mean, those aren't even tangible, measurable things!) I wondered if I would need a 12-step program to help me deal. I didn't know how to adjust to suddenly finding myself cut off from the world. And if I did....if this little device had so much power over my mental state ... perhaps disconnection might not be such a bad thing. Like pulling off a band-aid, a quick tug is best.

We all carry these portable transmitters in our purse or pocket or hooked to our belt and they make us globally accessible 24/7. We can be reached in our cars, in our kitchens, and even as we carry out our trash. People walk down sidewalks scrolling phones, eyes glued to a screen instead of noticing the people or places they walk by. They sit in restaurants with friends -- on dates -- checking email and texts. Our phone is a constant companion, held securely within the palm of our hand to keep us on call all the time. 

At a bar one evening, I watched a group of 20-somethings -- both male and female -- oblivious to each other as well as the scantily clad waitress trying to sell them various "shots." Every single one of them was engrossed in something on their phones. They didn't seem to notice each other and weren't talking. Their fingers were too busy typing or scrolling. 

Our smartphones have the power to disconnect us from the human experience.

I am guilty. I was distracted by my phone while I was out with a friend! What does that say? This gadget is more important than real-time relationships? Why would I spend my energy worrying about whether someone was trying to connect with me when at that very moment I was disengaging myself from an actual connection?

It was a harsh discovery. So I took a deep breath and slipped the damaged phone into my purse, making the choice to enjoy my the time outside. The Detroit River ... Corktown ... some underpass that was beautifully graffiti-ed. I enjoyed the laughter and the conversation ... the chance to look around and discover places I'd never seen and talk with my friend. I opened my eyes and enjoyed a full day without my cell phone to undermine that time.

I survived 6 hours on Saturday completely disconnected from the "virtual world" and instead connected with the real one. Okay, I did eventually get a loaner from Verizon until my new phone comes in. And I did breathe a sigh of relief to have an htc in hand (quickly checking messages and texts) to keep me accessible to the people I care about. But my dependence on phone (a piece of technology designed to keep me connected to the world yet fundamentally doing the very opposite) almost caused me to miss out on a real-life moment. And in making that discovery, I wondered how many people were like me ... allowing their "smartphone" to disrupt their own human encounters as I had almost done.

Of course, I'm not suggesting you bang your phone with a super-strong fingernail (or steering wheel) to break said dependency. But, if 6 hours "out of network" is the only way you can truly enjoy "connecting" in a face-to-face non-technological way, perhaps you do need to explore a 12-step Addiction program ... 
                                                                                                                           -- Jenni