IMG_0268I 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.

  1. Mike Murphy says:

    Hey Paul…going tech commando is a great idea. I think our generation could handle it, but not sure our younger friends could. And the irony, here I am typing this on my smartphone. Just came home and went right for it..:-)

  2. Nina Lentini says:

    I would gladly pay about $1,000 to anyone who could let me live in a 1990’s world before cell phones for one day. I would just like to remember it! Someone must be able to recreate venues wherein people could spend some time being in the recent past. Anyhoo, nice thoughts.

  3. Joanne DiNardo says:

    I sometimes leave my phone at home .. Sometimes I even forget to charge it… My reasoning is this.. We HAVE become too attached to these things..unless you are the heart surgeon waiting for the call that the heart is available for transplant.. Or you are the patient that’s going to receive the heart…the text, FB post, email or phone call can wait an hour or two… Or maybe even three

  4. Paul LaRosa says:

    Thanks. Sometimes when I don’t take my cell phone and I have to meet my wife somewhere, she says, ‘How are we going to do that without your cell phone?’ And I say, “The way we used to. I’ll meet you at such and such a corner in 30 minutes.” Voilia!! 1995

  5. Paul LaRosa says:

    Mike, it’s scary to think some younguns will never know a world WITHOUT cell phones.

  6. Paul, there must be a 12 step program for this disease. You know step one, I came to believe i was powerless over technology etc. etc. Yeah but what would you do without your “”prayer and meditation timer…or your techno free “day counter” app. And how would you find the out of town meetings without the “meeting directory” app… and then you’d have to make amends to all those people you didn’t get right back to. Maybe the way to work it is with something new. Maybe a combination of psilocybin, cognitive therapy and then moderate usage might work. i don’t know but i think maybe you’ve stumbeled upon (no pun intended) the germ of a new way here! Especially the psilocybin part. I think I’m going to work on this here. That is if you don’t mind the intellectual piracy. You wouldn’t would you?

  7. Paul LaRosa says:

    Go for it Jack….

  8. Vanessa Leggett says:

    Loved your post, Paul. I had to go techno-commando in jail. It only took a few weeks of withdrawal before I realized that going off the grid was the only freedom I would have for nearly six months.

  9. Paul LaRosa says:

    ah so it works! thanks for your comment….

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