Walking Away From Our Phones: Guest Blogger, Max Calabro
Maybe you’re coping with technology better than I am. I have to admit — despite my regular meditation and yoga practices, I struggle with it on a daily basis. I’ve begun to notice that I rarely step more than fifteen or twenty feet away from my phone. And when I do, I feel weird, like something is missing. When I’m writing or working on a project, I compulsively check my phone every ten or fifteen minutes. What if someone wants to contact me? What if I’m forgetting about some appointment, or I miss an email? (Note: I realize that the whole point of email is that we can’t miss them. This doesn’t change the feeling.)
Intellectually, I know the world will not come crashing down. I know nothing will happen. Everything will be fine. Everything is fine. There is no logical reason to feel this attachment to the phone, but for many of us it has become our life-line, our primary mode of connecting with people. And so we have developed emotional feelings for our devices. This is disturbing on so many levels. Maybe in fifteen or twenty years our connectivity will be restricted the way cigarettes are now — I would not be surprised if the long-term psychological effects of constant smartphone use are as damaging as tar and nicotine.
But for now, we are left to deal with our smartphone addiction ourselves, and in a society that largely ignores the loss of attention and disrupted values that come along with it. What can we do? How can we recapture some of what we have lost? How can we even know what it is we have lost?
We have to be able to step away from our phones. Even when our phone is not buzzing, simply having it with us takes a portion of our personal attention. We have to remind ourselves of the world that is tangible, and of our connections in the flesh. Going for a walk is a great place to start.
I walk and bike a lot, but rarely sans smartphone. I always know it’s there, that I can make some kind of contact with every important (and almost every not-so-important) person in my life at the touch of a screen. Lately, I’ve begun intentionally taking moments to leave my phone at home when I go out for a walk or ride.
This is a small, daily version of going out into the wilderness, or traveling in a new country. In some ways, the lack of instant connectivity is what makes those experiences so special. Without a phone in our pocket, we are able to become fully immersed the the experience we’re having. We have to be creative and respond to our environment. We can dedicate our full attention to the trees, the trail, and the people we’re meeting and interacting with. We are not searching for something better or more engaging. We can be where we are, completely.
Which is the thing that feels a bit foreign and weird at this point. And wonderful. Do you remember when we used to walk around like this all the time? When we had answering machines and pay phones, when we had to be where we said we would be, otherwise we’d be leaving our friends hanging? When we didn’t wait until the last minute to make plans while hoping something better would come along?
If you’re under 25 or so, you might have never experienced it. On the two-week backpacking trips I lead with youth, there are inevitably a number of students who have never in their lives gone more than a few days without their phone. Maybe you are adapting better to this new normal than I am, but this straight-up terrifies me.
When we walk without our phones, or go into the woods, we can start to remember what that’s like to be where we are. We can feel our footsteps, take deep breaths, and smile at the spring blossoms on the trees without wondering if someone is about to text us and demand a piece of our withering attention.
Max Calabro is a writer, meditation coach, and entrepreneur in Portland, OR. You can find his blog and creative endeavors at maxcalabro.com. Feedback, comments, and chocolate-chip-cookies-by-mail are always welcome and appreciated.