A Millenial Without a Cell Phone

A Tale Of How Absolutely Nothing Changed

How It Began

You’ve read them. Article after article criticizing millennials, such as myself, as hopeless smartphone addicts. Our cellphones may as well become an appendage, they say. Our attention spans will never be the same, they say. On average, millennials use their phones for 171 minutes per day. While I don’t disagree with data, I just have a hard time finding myself within it.

As our flight landed in Amsterdam for a layover en route to visit my boyfriend's family in Germany, the stewardess came over the loudspeaker to announce we may now use our cellular devices. If you consider ‘Almost half of millennials say they would rather give up shampooing for a week than stop using their phones,’ you may be shocked to hear what happened next: I had no desire to reach for my phone. My generation has been declared screen-glued yuppies, am I a phenomenon? A scientific exception?

As I was contemplating this, my boyfriend, who has a much more robust roaming plan than I do, alerted me that our connecting flight would be departing from a different terminal. Ah, technology. We still confirmed our gate on the airport monitors. That was when the idea of keeping my cell phone put away for the entire trip became incredibly alluring.

Sure, you hear of people “unplugging” on vacation all the time. The truth is I sort of had a whole computer of a person traveling with me. My boyfriend, after all, is an engineer. A German engineer. Need I say more?

Even after just a few cell phone free hours, I felt great! It kind of felt like not wearing a bra AND getting away with it. (It is fair to note, I don’t sleep well on planes and therefore often have terrible jetlag, leading to whimsical sentiments such as the one that started this paragraph. I mean, who can sleep after watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on the in-flight entertainment, ugly-crying in front of hundreds of strangers? Not this girl.)

The Exceptions

I wanted to take stock of what technology I did use for full transparency. You can call these whatever you like, cheats, indiscretions, etc. I view it more as the equivalent of Thoreau going to town to get groceries in an otherwise modern-day “Walden” experience.

  1. DSLR Camera: While my undergraduate degree is a BFA of Photography, I did not end up becoming a professional photographer. My career took a different path, but photography, especially on vacation, is a huge relaxer to me. There is nothing more soothing than my eyes darting around the viewfinder, checking my ISO or shutter speed. I’m not sure why there is less of a stigma against D/SLR cameras compared to cell phones, but it certainly exists. We’re still taking an image to remember or capture a moment, it’s just not automatically available for social media. Perhaps it still falls under the category of “Art.” There are a plethora of memory card adaptors for your cell phone, and I do own one but I did not use it on this trip. There are too many fun photo editing necessities that have to be done on a computer.
  2. iPod: I have a very hard time falling asleep without listening to some sort of white noise. Some people have white noise machines in their bedroom, I have an Audible subscription and I listen to some of my favorite old books with a sleep timer. I turned an old iPhone that I dropped so many times that it looks like one of those lightning orbs, into an iPod. It is perpetually on airplane mode and is solely used as an audio device.
  3. Other People: I was constantly with people who had local phones with data. There was never any concern about getting where or needed to go or figuring out the confusing and ever-changing train schedules. I was a sheep, and they were all my shepherds.
  4. Laptop: When I found out I would have to register for my upcoming Graduate Certificate classes while on vacation, I did try to find a way to use the course selection portal on my phone. No dice. So, I had to cart my laptop around with me for 10 days. After all, nothing says “heal your slipped disc” like carrying an aged MacBook Pro around for an entire trip. (That’s right, I have a slipped disc, an injury that I received from spending too many hours sitting at a desk, #millennial.) The good news was I realized before we left that my European power adaptors would fry if I plugged my laptop charger into them, so, for the most part, I had to keep my computer turned off save for my class registrations to preserve the battery. I also realized I should probably let a few people know I was alive as well. See, the problem with going incognito is if you don’t let people know ahead of time they tend to think the worst. This isn’t the first time I’ve done something like this. Once upon a time, Netflix released a show on Thanksgiving day, let’s just call it, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to watch until the holiday was over, and I didn’t want to risk having the show ruined for me. I HATE spoilers, so I deleted any apps on my phone that allowed any sort of pop culture information to get through to me. I told a few people I would be offline for “a few days,” but when a few days turned into a week (because who can stay up late enough after a workday to watch 1.5 hour long episodes?!), my silence was concerning. So, this time around I tried my best to let a people know my phone was off in a good way. I still didn’t reach as many people as I should have. (Thanks again for the sweet message, Shannon!)

Observations

This will make sense later, I promise.

The issue, in my opinion, is not that we constantly need to be on social media talking to friends and family. The world is simply becoming more and more flat. People, of all ages, are becoming used to, and able to, have a screen in front of them at all times. The funny thing is, the people I saw abusing technology most during our travels weren’t even close to the millennial age range. On our flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, a gentleman in his 50’s sat in the row in front of us. Each seat had a TV screen. He had his screen, the screen of an empty seat next to him, and an iPad running for a majority of the flight. Once we were making our final descent, he turned everything off, but then blasted that “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW” song on repeat so loudly from his Bluetooth headphones, that I thought he was playing music from the speaker on his phone. After 30 minutes of “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW,” the plane wheels touched the ground. He then yelled with glee, “YA, THE MOTHERLAND!” (That last bit wasn’t an abuse of technology as much as an amusing anecdote, you’re welcome).

Fast forward several days, car, and train rides later, we found ourselves on another plane. Like most larger airlines these days, this flight had Wi-Fi. Considering my first ever flight had ashtrays in the armrests, I have not embraced the in-flight Wi-Fi yet. That was the kind of shit that I was told brought planes down when I was a youngster. I still remember the stewardesses on the loudspeakers telling us that use of cellular devices would tamper with the plane’s equipment in some fashion. Logically, I know that in-flight Wi-Fi is safe. But somewhere in my mind, I know that if I’m on a plane that does malfunction because someone uses their cell phone, that someone is NOT going to be me. If we go down, I will be glad to know it was not my fault. I will be celebrated and welcomed to The Good Place, the real one… Jason Mantzoukas can come too…

ANYWAYS, the gentleman sitting next to us on this flight was in his 60’s. He not only purchased the in-flight Wi-Fi for $16, but he used it to make a video call. I was blissfully halfway through a nice cellphone free viewing of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (the first one, in case you’re wondering) when my seat neighbor raised his hand to wave at his phone. I looked down to see a woman waving back and heard her greetings. Yes, the call was on speaker. Next, he held up the phone and showed her a view up and down the plane for no other reason than, he could.

On Halloween night we went out for dinner and there were two women in their 40’s sitting at the table next to us. When we sat down their noses were buried in their phones. One of them said that they should put their phones down and that the first person to pick theirs back up again would be buying. This lasted about 15 minutes, we were gone before their bill came.

In Conclusion

I’m not advocating for a complete unplug or cell detox or even for cutting back. Technology is here to stay, and there are endless data points thst prove it can ruin your life. However, there are some valid counterpoints. One of my favorite authors argues that we can use technology more intelligently. Use technology in the way that works best for you. For me, it’s unplugging as much as I can every once in a while, actually reading what I’m scrolling through, and recognizing when I’m just killing time.

That being said, if you don’t think I checked all of my messages once I was stateside, you are mistaken. Say it with me, “YA, THE MOTHERLAND!”