I am all too aware of the fact that reading about someone else’s experience of slowing down is akin to watching someone else take their daily vitamins. You know it’s probably something you should be doing, too, but since they aren’t your vitamins, who really cares?
So, the decision to write about my recent two-week stint of not being such a technology robot and being more attuned to the present moment is largely self-serving.
Our world moves at a manic pace. If one puts one’s hat into the ring at all, one cannot help but to feel an immense amount of pressure to keep pace. Produce more. Post more. Utilize every outlet and tool available. Use every moment of every day to become better, stronger, and healthier.
So much of that pressure, I find, is directly related to our devices. Our phones produce the expectation of productivity or provide constant distraction from being productive and we are never, but never, without our phones.
Parents give children phones as soon as they are able to type. Doing so makes it infinitely more convenient for them to keep tabs on whose house their kid is playing at, gives them peace of mind from a safety standpoint, and so on.
We do business from them in line to get coffee, and rely on them to give us an escape in awkward social gatherings (la la la, I’m not really here right now), and sometimes we actually use them to make and take phone calls.
We can’t imagine our lives without them, can’t imagine how we ever got along before our devices came along.
We must have been stubby, little wart versions of ourselves pre-screens. We must have had the productivity of turtles wading through really thick mud. We must have been so damn bored all of the time.
The scary part is how seemingly easy it is to convince oneself of necessity. “I can’t live without my phone.” I swear that’s been the answer in every magazine and online quick-fire interview I’ve read in the past decade to the question “What would you take with you to a deserted island?”
We have so bought into the notion that we need our screens that we believe in the absolute necessity of owning one of every iteration. The complete tech-set includes a laptop (big screen, keyboard), a smart phone (small-big screen, touchpad keyboard), an ipad (medium-big screen, no keyboard), and a watch (miniature screen, no keyboard). And not only that, we have to keep updating our models of each respective one!
Somedays, I catch myself thinking, “I could really use an iPad. Yeah, I think that would make the difference.” And then I pull myself back to reality, feeling both defeated and defiant, like someone whose brainwashing procedure was begun but never finished.
I decided that I was wholly due for a bout of screen-free time, and what better place to unplug than the Greek Islands?
It took a few days to shake the habit. I carried my phone in my hand by rote. I compulsively scrolled. I felt minor relief at the sight of a free wifi sign, logging in to the network like some weird addict.
But as the days went by, I stopped reaching for my screen. I experienced moments and places for the sake of soaking them into memory, rather than for documentation. I reminded myself that the moment I was in was not for anyone else but for me. It wouldn’t actually matter to anyone else, but it would be significant and memorable for me if only I fully immersed myself in it.
And then it happened: I started leaving my phone behind at the hotel. The thought of adding it to my bag felt like a chore; like an unnecessary weight. I started to relish the moments of inactivity throughout the day: the time waiting for a meal to arrive at the table, the time spent standing in line for a coffee, moments when habit would ordinarily dictate that I whip out my phone and do something.
You know, the strange thing about deciding to be less addicted to your screens than usual is the inevitable realization that you are perfectly fine without them. Actually, you’re kind of better off. Come to think of it, you’re a fully, definitely happier, more peaceful, less anxious version of yourself.
Then I got back home, and there were emails to be answered and calls to be returned and life to be resumed. But the truth is still fresh in my mind: I don’t need these things in order to be content. I can happily, gratefully utilize them for the incredible tools that they are, but I am also allowed to maintain boundaries between myself and my screens.
It’s desperately hard to remember that. I feel myself slipping back and my reliance on them increasing once again with every day post-Greece. Marketers have so thoroughly convinced us of the fact that our devices are akin to breathing that to differentiate the two remains our primary task as denizens of the current age.
But I’ll be back in Greece soon enough, and I’ll remind myself all over again of what I already know: life happens outside the confines of technology. Technology is a bridge, a vehicle that leads to introductions and opportunities. But it itself is not life, and if we spend all our time using it, we are not fully living.
The only real necessity for achieving contentment is to be present to the life that’s unfolding around us at any given moment.
Well, that and a freddo cappuccino; let’s not be too keen on throwing the baby out with the Mediterranean sea-water.