Last week I vowed to use my smart phone (a 3G iPhone) exclusively for the quaint practice of calling friends or family during Labor Day weekend — which is saying something given my publicly confessed smart phone addiction. Now that Labor Day is behind us, I’ve been asked, “How did I do?” and “What did I do without my iPhone?” With a few minor exceptions, I am happy to say I stayed true to my pledge. Well, there was an email I sent to a friend Saturday morning to announce excitedly that I’d found a Japanese import copy of Born to Run for a ridiculously low price (in true smart phone fashion, I uploaded a photo of my purchase to my email). But otherwise, I stayed off the grid. No Twitter. No Facebooking. No working. So what did I do with those little moments of down time and transition that I often commit to my smart phone? Here’s what:
- I read a book: Cardboard Gods, a sweet memoir that centers around the author’s boyhood love of baseball cards. Whenever I was tempted to check Twitter on my phone, I picked up the book and reeled off a few more pages. And the more I read, the more engrossed I became. Do you remember what it was like when you were a child and endless summer days were given over to exploring books? What a joyous experience it was — and how pleasing to relive those times during a wind-swept Labor Day weekend spent in northern Wisconsin.
- I did some people watching. At a Perkins 24-hour restaurant near Madison, Wisconsin, I noticed an enormous biker clad in black leather scan the restaurant from a corner booth while he wrote something in a mysterious note pad, like a scene from a Tarantino movie. In the hardscrabble town of Phillips, Wisconsin, I watched a frail old couple seated across from each other in a cafe, wordlessly eating their grilled cheese sandwiches, their motions strained, slow, yet all their own.
- I did nothing. While pumping gas at one of those greasy roadside gas stations that doubles as an unappetizing fast food outlet, I simply watched the numbers fly by on the pump and noticed how the wind was gently rocking our car. Nothing profound about that — which is exactly the point. It’s OK to do absolutely nothing. We need not chase down a smart phone rabbit hole of Facebookers, Twitterers, and emailers whenever we come across some down time. Must every spare moment be used to fill our heads with digital information?
Most importantly, I felt more mentally present for my loved ones. And this is why it was important to shut off as completely as possible. For it’s not enough to say, “This weekend I’m going to shut off my iPhone when I’m in the presence of my family and friends.” Even after I turn off my phone, the contents of the email I just read or the Tweet I just wrote linger in my mind for a while like white noise when I’m supposedly focused on the people in the room with me. Maybe you can shut off the information flow like a spigot, but I cannot. Which tells me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use my commute home to catch up on reading like I used to do before I became a smart phone addict — having the mental break makes for a nice transition.
And how was your Labor Day? Did you turn off or remained tuned in? Either way, how did it feel?