One of the most difficult parts of my exile was leaving my beloved iPhone behind.
My iPhone came with me everywhere…it was always at my side.
When I needed to make a connection, bam, it was there to help me make a call.
When I wanted to listen to some music, zing, it would flip out a record from my collection and lay down some B-sides.
When all I desired was to snap a quick photo or check my email, whiz-bang, it became what I needed it to be. The perfect relationship.
Or so I thought. Like with so many things, I was a bit too close to the situation to realize what I was giving up in exchange for constant access to just about everything and everyone in the world.
I sold my iPhone for many reasons. Partially because I didn’t want to worry about finicky data plans when I traveled, partially because using it in public would make me a tempting target for crime in certain parts of the world, and partially because it wouldn’t work on a goodly number of mobile networks in certain countries.
The final nail in the coffin was that I realized I was developing a dependency. I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to operate without it, and that was a scary thought. I sold it as soon as I could.
Since then, I’ve found that I was even more dependent than I imagined.
For a long time I didn’t need to know where anything was, I could just look it up on my iPhone! I’d hit a button and it would tell me where I was located. I’d hit another and it would tell me how to get where I wanted to go, step-by-step. Like magic!
I could translate any language into any other language with little or no effort on my part.
I could convert one currency to another with gusto.
I had all of my contact names and numbers and email addresses, all in one place, easily searchable and sendable.
I was making myself ignorant, pushing all of that information out of my mind and into this tiny little device.
I was building a crutch out of bits, bytes, and sexy hardware.
It’s called distributed memory. It usually occurs when two people start a relationship and information acquired by the couple is subconsciously divided between them.
One person might remember dates and times and how to cook that meal they had at their friend’s house that one time, while the other remembers where the bills are, when they need to be paid, which key goes to the mailbox, and how much they need to save every month to take that ski trip later in the year.
It happens to every couple to one degree or another, and I was developing — nay, deep into — this kind of relationship with my iPhone.
So now, half a year later, I am finally back to my pre-iPhone condition. My info is retained mostly within my brain (except for the bits that just pass on through) and the responsibility for knowing what goes where and who’s who is mine and mine alone.
I am also much more in the moment than I was before.
Look around any social situation and you’ll see most people are engrossed 10-70% of the time in their mobile device. They might have gotten dressed up for the party, but part of their minds are on Twitter or Facebook or FourSquare or texting or in their inbox.
They might be taking a photo of a beautiful sunset or telling a friend about something funny that just happened, but are they really experiencing the sunset? Are they taking every bit of the funniness in? Not really. Usually they snap a photo and then turn around and walk away. They see something funny, laugh inwardly — face unmoving — and then ‘lol’ to their Twitter followers.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. I’ve been the same, and likely will be again as soon as I decide to get a smart phone once more (it will happen).
The relationship that I have with my device will be different this time around, though. Now that I’ve had a pure experience again — really stopped and focused and taken it all in — I won’t be able to live without it.
This may mean that I take fewer photographs and don’t Tweet as frequently, but I can always tell people about my experiences later. I can always take a photograph the next time I see something similar, or just tell people about it after the fact.
Sharing is great, but if you give away your life before taking the time to experience it yourself, you’re missing out on everything.
Update: December 11, 2016
Important context for this essay: the iPhone I had before leaving the US? The iPhone 3G. Which, if you look it up, was old and did essentially nothing. For the time, it was remarkable, but the iPhone was still a somewhat niche product, mostly used by designers and other ‘creative’ industry people. The camera was terrible. The connectivity, as I mentioned in the essay, was very limited.
And so much has changed in that regard. Smartphones have become pocketable supercomputers, and they truly are remarkable in what they allow us to do when connected to them.
That said, I did take to heart the lessons learned while going first back into the dumb-phone world, and then phone-less, for a time, during the first few years of my travels. I realized that I value the moment, and that taking the time is important, even if you take time to enjoy that sunset, and then, after a bit, take out the phone to snap a photo to share with people who can’t be there with you to enjoy it.
Balance is so key to this. If you go completely off-grid, you miss out on some of the marvelous things that are happening in the interconnected space that we tap into using the mobile internet. If you go into full-phone-absorption mode, you miss out on the world around you.
Everyone will have a different comfort-level with this, but I’m guessing that, for most of us, we end up in the default space, which has the dial turned a little too far toward absorption. It’s worth pulling away periodically to see if you might want to reset that dial.