Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Unplugged: Recap from my (Almost) Technology-Free Weekend

I'm keeping my promise to update you all on my weekend without a cell phone, a weekend during which I was operating on limited senses. To be clear, I'm not making an analogy about how turning off my phone was like losing a sense. I'm referring to literal circumstances, in this case an intense head cold which left me unable to smell or taste. (My hearing was a little off, too.) It was fitting, though, and if this were a work of fiction it would be worthy of a few minutes of book club discussion. "I think the cold was a metaphor for our inability to navigate and relate to the world around us without the use of technology." I can hear the nods of agreement now.

Anyway. My weekend:

Friday, 4:49 pm: The phone rang a mere eleven minutes before I was scheduled to turn it off. I took the call and enjoyed chatting with a friend in much the same way one enjoys scarfing down a cheeseburger the day before a diet. 

Friday, 4:56 pm: The call ended and I spent approximately two minutes pacing around the kitchen and rethinking my decision. 

Friday, 4:58 pm: I called my mom to give her a quick update on something and to say a very dramatic (though brief) goodbye.

Friday, 4:59 pm: I sent out one last tweet because... Twitter withdrawal.

Friday, 5:00 pm: I turned off my phone.

I did it. I turned off my phone. 

This wasn't by design, but the no-phone challenge coincided with a weekend getaway for my family. It was the first time my little family of three went away by ourselves, for no particular reason other than to spend time together. This was especially fortuitous because it meant I was busy "packing" - which, when you have a toddler running around the house means you put the same things into a suitcase thirty times because toddlers love emptying suitcases as you pack them. They live for that stuff. The task of packing provided a helpful distraction from the fact that I had practically just chopped off my arm and tossed it aside to rot. (Did I mention I was feeling a bit dramatic about all this?)

By about 6:30 pm we were on the road heading to Cape May, NJ. The little one was nodding off in the backseat and my husband was driving. This would normally be a time for me to catch up on emails, find recipes on Pinterest that I have no intention of ever actually making, etc. Instead, I asked my husband a few "How's life?" questions, and we talked for the duration of the trip.

All this talking had me feeling much more emotionally present than usual, perhaps too emotionally present, because I started bawling when I entered the lobby of our hotel. The last time I had been there was on a ladies' weekend with a particularly fantastic lady who has since left this world. Walking into this space opened a floodgate of memories and I was unprepared for the rawness of the experience. If I had my phone on me, I expect I would have been distracted, if not numbed by the task of looking up our reservation details so I could be extra-ready for check-in.

The clerk at the desk (probably because she felt sorry for the crazy lady with the runny mascara) upgraded us to an oceanfront townhouse. This was awesome because it provided a great view and more space. This was not awesome because the townhouse had a fully-stocked kitchen. The kind of kitchen which includes a coffee maker, but no coffee.

This led to my first technology cheat. I awoke at 5am Saturday morning and used my husband's phone (not mine!) to locate a 24-hour Wawa so I could buy some coffee. Ordinarily I would have been able to smell it, but like I mentioned before, head cold.

I returned victorious from my mission, brewed some coffee, and sat down for my morning Bible study. I'm currently doing a Kelly Minter study on the book of Nehemiah, and usually I use my Bible app to bounce back and forth between translations. This morning, I used a physical Bible, you know - with pages and everything. It was all very wonderful and rustic.

When I was finished, I spent some time using a pencil and paper (I know, more paper... mind-blowing, right?) to map out the theme of the manuscript I'm currently editing, with the goal of finding areas where it could be tightened up. I had one of those "eureka" moments, and I'm confident I wouldn't have had it if I were using this time to browse Facebook instead.

We spent the day at a leisurely pace, taking our daughter to a park, walking through town and by the ocean, even napping in the afternoon. At one point I tried to stop and smell the roses (literally), but I couldn't smell them. Oh, well. At least I tried.

There were lots of little moments during which I had nothing urgent to do, and these were the moments I most noticed the absence of my phone. These were the moments when I would normally do a quick check to stay connected to the outside world. Instead, I found myself doing quick checks to stay connected to the world right in front of me. This resulted in some deeply satisfying bubble-blowing sessions, dance parties, and laughs. (We took our daughter to a restaurant she had no business being in, and the look on her face when the waiter approached us in a very no-nonsense, this is not Bennigan's sort of way had us in stitches for most of the weekend. For the record, she defied all expectations and behaved like Princess Kate.)

My other technology cheat was using my husband's phone to take pictures. In my defense, I packed an actual camera, but I packed the wrong charger. I decided the photos were an admissible offense, because it was certainly a weekend I wanted to capture in photos.

So that was my weekend without a phone. There are a lot of things I love about my phone. I love staying in touch with friends, and finding coupon apps, and taking digital notes so I don't have a ton of papers shoved into my purse. The phone is not a bad thing in and of itself, but getting rid of it for a while wasn't a bad thing either. I think my family felt more loved as a result, and I felt like there was more room. More room for conversations, giggles, possibilities.

It was a good exercise. I may do it again, though not in such a legalistic way next time. And hopefully when that does happen, I'll have my senses back.

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