I Used to Own a Phone (but now the phone owns me?)…

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What’s the longest you’ve gone without your cell phone?

Anymore it seems that our phones are also our internet portals – so maybe the question I should be asking is how long have you gone without the internet and your mobile phone? Here’s the reason I ask: I just went two weeks without turning on my phone/internet portal. And you know what? It wasn’t all that hard to do.

Now there was a time that feat wouldn’t have seemed so astonishing. We used to do all sorts of things, for hours, days or even weeks at a stretch, without checking the phone that was to become the omnipresent occupant of our pocket or purse.

For me my favorite “didn’t have a phone with me” story is about driving across country back to California after I got out of the service.

In 1986, when nearly every phone in existence was still firmly affixed to a wall by a wire, I was discharged from an Air Force base on the East Coast. My destination upon said discharge was the West Coast. At the time the only vehicle I owned was a very small, very old English sports car.

To say that car was intermittently reliable would be more than generous.

And when the day came to begin the 2,500 mile journey to my next destination I climbed in my little car, fired up its antiquated motor (which still had the option of starting via hand crank) and pointed it west.

Five days, two break downs and one sleepless night later I rolled into the town of Morgan Hill, California. That’s an adventure I will never forget. And it’s one that, in no way shape or form, involved a cell phone.

And while now that seems like an absolutely unthinkable thing to do without a mobile phone handy, the truth is we used to do it all the time – remember?

We used to go long stretches of time without pulling out our cell phones and calling someone, or taking a call, or looking up the weather, or driving directions, or videos of people getting hit in the crotch with golf balls, or, well, you get the idea.

And look, I’m not one of those “everything was better in the past” type people who believe the world has grown steadily worse in inverse relation to the amount of birthdays they’ve accrued, but I have to say – not turning on a cell phone or getting online for the last two weeks has taught me something:

We get online and use our cell phones way too much.

Now that’s not to say we don’t need our phones – of course there are times when we absolutely need them. Like say for example that time a while back when my kid broke down on the freeway in San Francisco during rush hour traffic – that was a time I was more than grateful to have a portable phone in my pocket. He got ahold of me and Loretta and we bailed him out of a bad spot before it had the chance to become a worse spot.

But how about other times? Like those times when someone is talking to you and yet you glance at your phone. Why do we do that? Didn’t that used to be rude? So when did rude become not rude?

And the reason we divert our attention to our phones, even though someone may be right in front of us and fully deserving of that attention, is that we feel we’re going to miss something.

But what are we really going to miss? An email with an offer for our dream job? A phone call from a long lost, very rich, dying relative?

Uh, no.

Based upon going 14 days without checking my phone I can tell you exactly what you might miss:

About 11 emails selling weight loss diets, 13 selling antidepressants, and 7 selling male enhancement pills (do all guys get these or is it just me?) and 3 emails offering deals in Ireland – and how creepy is it that the Internet knew I was in Ireland? Oh, and I even got messages telling me I’d won the Nigerian Lottery. Twice.

When I finally checked voice mail it was about the same story. The messages I feared might be there were not – you know, like the fire department calling to say the house burned down, or the IRS calling to say they’d like to chat about my last 3 tax returns.

What I actually had were a couple of random missed calls and a friend or two wishing me a fun time in Ireland.

And after all that here’s the analogy I’ve landed on: The phone and the internet are like the envelopes I get from my mail carrier – the vast majority of it is junk. And while that might be great for keeping the Post Office in business, it doesn’t improve my lot in life one iota.

I mean I don’t rush to open those “Mr. Gavin or current resident” envelopes, and I certainly wouldn’t open one as a real live human in front of me was trying to convey a thought.

So why do I do the same with the stuff on my phone?

The short answer is I don’t want to anymore.

But I have to tell you the weirdest thing happened when my plane touched down in San Francisco. When I turned my phone back on – after being off for two whole weeks – and watched it fill up with the emails and voice messages and text notifications, I started to fall back into the old habit.

You know the one, where you use the phone as a sort of distraction as you pretend that all the things happening on it somehow require your immediate attention.

And then it occurred to me that my phone is, much of the time, just that: a distraction. One that keeps me from being fully present where I am; keeps me from living totally in the moment; keeps me distracted.

Here’s to putting down our phones and living in the moment. And while my moment was two weeks long – I’m about to see if I can make it a little longer.

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