10 days and nights unplugged

I had always wanted to time travel, until the moment that I actually did. In a world obsessed with the past and the future, the present is underrated. Even if the future is your aim, you can’t get there without taking the right steps for today, and you can’t take the right steps for today without focusing on them.

How did I become so zen? Last month I discovered a backdoor to transporting to the early 1900s and took the plunge, at least connectivity-wise. Here’s how to do it yourself: smash your cell phone.

This should have been a trivial event to recover from, but Andreus at customer support left a lot to be desired, ending with me not-so-temporarily phone-less. Combined with the fact that I tether to my phone in lieu of home wifi, this meant that I spent 10 days and nights in a total blackout (outside of the office).

In the digital dark, those moments were eye-opening.

Normally I can use the constantly updated timestamps of emails, texts, and various alerts I receive night and day as a sort of ghetto watch that winds me into automaton action. “9:45 am – Reminder! You have a meeting with Very Important Person in 15 mins” –> goes to meeting, “9:50 am – ROFLOLOLOL CHECK THIS OUT ALEGZ” –> wastes 5 minutes looking at a cat picture, now late for meeting, “10:00 am – Google Alert: everyone hates you” –> distracted from meeting by noise. In this mode, it doesn’t matter if my eyes are open.

Suddenly without this normal chatter, I was forced to be where I was at any given moment, and to open my eyes. I was not informed about what just happened or by what was going to happen, and instead had to intuit it or seek it out myself. I had to think carefully about what I needed to address, when, and how.

I had to memorize my daily schedule of meetings and calls, plan out travel ahead of time, and become much more independent overall.  I had to pay attention to everyone I spoke with or met. Twiddling on my phone for supposedly justifiable reasons simply wasn’t possible.

In turn, my coping mechanisms for being without a digital connection transformed my internal thoughts too–in a reinforcing cycle, my altered thinking changed my actions. Everything became extremely deliberate, thoughtful, and well-planned.

The experience was dream-like. For those 10 days, I was living in a parallel reality. After a few days plugged back in, I’m finding myself falling back into automaton mode and am praying I don’t forget the lessons I was forced to learn.

Specific pros from the week that I remember:

  • deeper interactions with friends and family, old and new (e.g. organized weekend trips, spent time with family, had more face time interaction)
  • more attention to my surroundings (e.g.  cleaned my apartment more than normal, cleaned my desk at the office, learned the major roads of SF by heart after being reliant on GPS-navigation previously)
  • more attention to my personal well-being and those around me (e.g. got more exercise, started flossing more regularly, encouraged others to eat healthier)
  • more time to engage with old media (e.g. started reading the first fiction book I’ve picked up since 2003 and read Orwell’s Politics and the English Language at the recommendation of a friend)

Specific cons that I remember (I’m convinced that these are simply due to me forgetting how to operate without my phone):

  • missed a 24 hour turnaround deadline because I wasn’t even aware of the deadline
  • could not be easily called; had to originate most calls
  • wasn’t used to not being told whenever I had a meeting, led to me being late more than usual

Is there really an actionable take-away from all of this? Sure, you could make the bold declaration that you’re going to disable all alerts on your phone, or perhaps even power down your phone periodically, but would you really forego texts from close friends and family? What if there’s an emergency?

In my case, I saw the light, but I’m also right back where I started, phone in hand, alerts buzzing. That said, my perception of what’s important has changed. By being thrust kicking into the present, I realized there are actions and habits I don’t take normally enough, and am adjusting my life accordingly.

I encourage everyone to take a connectivity vacation, and uncover what in their life might be untended. That, and to generally be more mindful of the present.

BTW, all I did was break my phone. Augmented reality (think Google Glass, digital contact lenses, etc), self-driving cars (already legal in Nevada, Florida, and California), brain-machine interfaces, and brain-brain interfaces are all in the pipeline. I wonder what epiphanies await our future selves when technologies like those break down.

Alex Written by:

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