Panic… Isolation… Calm… Appreciation. Liz Gumbinner describes her experience without cell service.
After several years of iPhone (addiction) ownership and a career that relies on the Internet, sometimes I find it hard to unplug. Is it the same for you? It’s as if we’ve become so accustomed to access and our own accessibility that without either we feel more than disconnected. We feel ill at ease. Isolated. Maybe even unsafe.
Sometimes I try to unplug by putting my phone away for an hour. I know, that’s like a spare bar of chocolate in the butter compartment of the fridge, it’s always there should I need it. What really gets me are the times when that final bar disappears and the eerie “NO SIGNAL” icon takes its place. It’s a different feeling entirely.
In New York City, we all joke about the “dead blocks” – those avenues where you have to put down the phone for a whole 60 seconds until you arrive at the next corner. But this week while on vacation with my family in the wilds of Northeastern Vermont, somewhere between “Nowhere You’ve Ever Heard Of” and “That Town That’s Not So Far From that Other Town,” this phenomenon happens often. Turns out, a dead zone can be more than just a neighborhood…it can be an entire town.
I watched the bars slowly vanish…down to three, then two, then a faint little dot-hardly even a bar at all. It was forced unplugging. I had no choice.
I’d imagine that in a way, we’re losing our ability to function without 24/7 access to the world. A recent study says Mothers are 18% more likely than the general population to own a smartphone, often inspired by motherhood itself. It’s not entirely surprising; our phones are our lifelines, remote controls, maps, music libraries, entertainment, and news sources. They are our brag books. Our phones are an emergency text from the sitter, a quick search for a Starbucks with a clean bathroom for a diaper change, a spontaneous play date maker. Without a signal, I’ve pretty much got Angry Birds, a camera, and the static NYC subway map.
So here, after I’ve recovered from that initial jolt of “NO SIGNAL,” (admittedly it took a little time), I started to like it. I have no choice but to focus on the scenery, the music on the radio, or even just my own thoughts.
There’s something kind of retro-wonderful about knowing, should I be lost, I can stop at a gas station–or a Galician prison–and ask for directions. (Women are genetically disposed to do such things, or so I hear.) And should I want to take a photo, I can still do so. Only for now, it will be just mine and mine alone.
Even more wonderful: As I settled into the big top bleachers at the opening night of Vermont’s charming Circus Smirkus show last night, I realized that not one person was sneaking a look at their Blackberries. No one had to be reminded to turn off cell phones before the show. No adult was racing out into the waning sunlight at intermission to send a quick email or respond to a text. Mostly, they were grabbing popcorn. Or encouraging their toddlers to roll down the grassy hill. Or admiring their children’s awkward cartwheels and hula hooping skills. And maybe even remembering their own adolescent circus dreams. It wasn’t bad at all.
But I have to admit, I don’t know if I could do it all the time. Could you?