I had a revelation recently. It wasn’t exactly the awakening of Buddha but it surprised me nonetheless.
I was staying in a chain hotel in one of those corporate nowhere-villes that dot America and I was in the mood for a coffee. In New York, I’d just walk down the block and find any number of indie and chain coffee places but, being where I was, I knew Starbucks would be the only game in town. So I asked the hotel doorman about the nearest outlet. “Right across the street,” he said.
Now “right across the street” did not have the same meaning for him that it does for me. For starters, the “street” in this case was a eight-lane boulevard. There was no way to jaywalk — my preferred method of crossing any street — without getting flattened by an SUV. So I actually waited for the light and, when I got to the other side, I realized I had left my cell phone back in my room. Since I was working and technically “on the clock,” I thought for a second about fetching it but that meant another trip across the boulevard of nowhere dreams and up an elevator to my 10th floor hotel room.
Screw it, I thought. The valet said the Starbucks was right here. But it wasn’t. It was “right across the street” if you happened to be driving but walking, well, it was a long ten-minute walk (20 minutes round trip). And so I began and, as I did, I realized that, for the first time in a long time, no one knew where I was and there was no way to reach me. Fact is, I barely knew where I was, and the thought of being off the grid, even for 20 minutes or so, was blissful.
I felt completely free. I didn’t have to answer to anyone. If someone had a question, it would just have to wait. I didn’t have to answer any dumb, cover-your-ass emails and no GPS program could track me.
Yes, I wouldn’t be able to post a photo but, guess what? The world can live without another picture of a heart-shaped foamed cappuccino. Man, I was FREE!
And that’s when I realized what slaves we all are to our smartphones. They provide so much but they also suck so much out of us. I mean, I’ve lived most of my life WITHOUT a smartphone but I’d forgotten what it was like. When I was a kid, I left my apartment in the morning and my parents had no way of reaching me until dinner. When I was in high school, I could get in as much trouble as I wanted, wander anywhere I wanted to go, and no one would know where I’d been. Same for when I was a young adult.
I never thought of that as freedom back then because there were no smartphones tracking our every move. We’ve all become techno-slaves and, being without one even temporarily, felt like I had all the freedom in the world.
I vowed from then on to go tech-commando more often, to leave my cell phone at home. (“Going commando” in case you don’t know is what women call not wearing underwear under a particularly tight dress so I dubbed leaving my cell phone at home “techo-commando.”) But here’s the strange thing — my being with a cell phone makes everyone else nervous. If I say, “Look, I’m not going to take my cell phone but I’ll be back after lunch,” my colleagues say, “But how are we going to reach you? What if we have a question?”
Well, I say, “you’ll just have to wait until I get back.” It’s kind of a radical concept in this tech-slave age in which we live. I say, let’s all go techno-commando more often and regain a few crumbs of freedom and don’t worry, your emails will wait. There really is no almost no reason you have to always be available. Really.