Lost-Cell-Phone Lessons

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash.

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.” –Matsuo Bashō

On the day the Lord hath risen, I lost my cell phone between the hours of 8:31 a.m. and 10:38 a.m. The phone, unfortunately, has been missing in action for two days now with no sign of resurrection.

I am now a (temporary) member of the five percent of Americans who do not own a cellphone of some kind, according to the 2018 Pew Research Center Internet & Technology’s “Mobile Fact Sheet.”  And while I felt a small dose of anxiety and, yes, dread when I initially discovered my phone’s absence, I also have felt relief and reconnection from looking up and outward instead of down and inward.

Navigating my life sans phone has been easier than expected. This “loss,” a true First World problem if ever there were one, has had surprising benefits.

Typically, when my daughter naps I tidy up, do meal prep, scribble a line or five in a notebook, start and stop the same book, or, yes, play on my phone, reading essays, Googling gardening tips, or texting a friend. Without the phone, though, I slept while she napped or curled up with a book I actually concentrated on.

I breathed in and out more consciously. I did not self-soothe or lose time with a device. With no blue screen upon which to gaze or distract myself, I let my brain wander and rest as it saw fit. Unsurprisingly, my brain often said, “I am tired; let us nap.” So, I did. And it was glorious succumbing to restorative idleness.

Sure, during my accidental 48-hour cellphone detox, I occasionally experienced “phantom phone experiences” of attempting to check a little black screen that was no longer there or checking my back pocket for the familiar rectangle lump. While I was a late-adopter of cell phones, or a “hold-out” as my friends often accused me of before I decided to buy a smartphone, I still used my phone like many others—for virtual socialization, streaming music, watching an episode or two of Daniel Tiger or Peppa Pig with my daughter, snapping photos, syncing steps, racking up coffee loyalty points, and consuming the news.

Without the phone, though, I was fully present during my daughter’s first real grasp of an Easter egg hunt. While I have no adorable photos of Luci running across a vast green lawn to discover the next plastic egg on a sunny Midwestern Sunday, I was there with her, as she ran from egg to egg. As she collected an overflowing bounty, I chased behind her, juggling lost-and-found eggs, laughing and tossing eggs back into her possession, only to repeat the process in vain. With a cellphone in hand, that beautiful moment would not have happened.

As most toddlers almost are, Luci was so immersed in the now of the hunt she did not care if she found the most eggs. She just wanted to see what type of candy she might open and eat before discovering yet another egg. Such in-the-moment presence is something adults try to find at pricey spiritual retreats and by imitating Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s Spartan biohack rituals, but perhaps nirvana might be closer to letting go of that which binds us to electrical outlets and chargers.

Luci’s approach to enjoying the here and now is what not having a cellphone is like. And like most paradoxical elements of modern living, tuning into the environment and the people around you is both easier and harder with electronic devices. I can text my mother, who is visiting Atlanta, and ask my friends, Beth and Jenna, how they are doing in both Portlands. I can find a park for Luci to burn off energy as we drive across the state of Missouri.

But I can also talk to others, find an off-the-beaten-path diner with no Yelp reviews that serves a killer omelet. I can open my eyes and take a quick detour down side streets before stumbling upon a playground with slides and swings.

Both methods deserve our attention. I think that is the biggest lesson for me—losing what one is dependent on makes one realize the innumerable possibilities of reaching a similar outcome with a different route. So, later this afternoon, when I buy a new phone and wait for the device to charge, I hope I will use this metaphorical reset as a reminder to use technology when it serves me and not the other way around.