For the past week and a half I have been without a cell phone.
Most people my age see this as the equivalent to being grounded in middle school, having the N64taken away, or even as severe as losing a limb. Thinking about going without a phone for even a few hours always prompts, “Oh my God, I couldn’t even…” or “I’d sooner die,” followed by a quick and impulsive check of the pocket to make sure the most feared is not reality.
The other reaction I’ve gotten from people who find out that I am phone-less is, “That must be so liberating!” Yes, it has been in the sense that it is one less thing to worry about. I can’t distract myself with a nifty toy like we are all guilty of when we want to escape where we are; when we want to seem busy if we are walking by our self; when we want to look less alone. On a simple level, I hate having too many things in my pockets so going without a clunky flip phone was a huge relief.
In some ways it brought me back to a simpler time when people were better at committing to plans. If I said I was going to meet someone on campus at a certain time, I had to be there because there was no way of letting them know I was late. This was a satisfying pressure to have. I found myself more conscious of time I was wasting because being late had much larger consequences.
For the first week I settled into this new routine very easily and naturally. I don’t have an iPhone so I was only missing out on texts and calls. I wasn’t worried about the games of Words With Friends I was suddenly sidelined for, or all the naked snap chats shivering in my inbox. For the most part, it was much harder for my friends than it was for me. I got used to not being able to contact people the instant I felt the need to, but those around me had no reason to make this adjustment. I was charged with “wtf!? Where have you been?” multiple times.
Of course, this sense of ease would be different if I was a freshman or sophomore. As a senior I am pretty comfortable and after four years and have a relatively large circle of friends. I didn’t worry about finding people to eat lunch with because I knew I would run into someone. For an underclassman this might feel like a slow and tortuous social suicide, but I came to love the spontaneity of it all. I found myself eating with people outside my usual crew and only occasionally felt the pangs of the dreaded #FOMO.
It did start to get lonely though, especially when it came to staying in touch with family or friends that I couldn’t run into on Case walkway. Emails didn’t help because sound of another human voice will always trump text on a screen in its ability to convey love and affection. But this lonely feeling seemed warranted because telephones since their conception have always been there to bridge the distance between people miles apart. The way we use them now, unfortunately, is as a quick fix for the fear of being alone.
I won’t preach for mindfulness or other words pirated from eastern philosophy by yuppies in expensive stretchy pants, but I will say that we need to get better at being alone.
Instead of pushing ourselves to fill that loneliness with human connections we delve deeper into our cell phones. Striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know has become “awkward,” and a stranger that starts a conversation with you is now “creepy.” I won’t preach for mindfulness or other words pirated from eastern philosophy by yuppies in expensive stretchy pants, but I will say that we need to get better at being alone. I certainly didn’t master this by cutting the instant communication cord for a mere two weeks, but being forced to confront the habit of hiding loneliness behind conveniences is something we all should face.
This piece originally appeared in The Skidmore News on February 24, 2014