Every day after sailing practice, when we sit down as a team to discuss the day’s accomplishments and challenges, my coach makes each one of us place our cell phone in a box, and then he places it at the front of the room, out of reach of our eager hands. This simple gesture allows us to focus entirely on one thing for that 45 minutes of our day, and to really pay attention without being distracted. I hate to sound like an old person, nagging the young generation about “that texting” and “the Facebook”, but there is some beauty to living life unplugged: do we really need to constantly check our Twitter, Facebook, and text messages? Probably not. Whatever it is, it can probably wait until you’re done with that important conversation or have put down that book that you’ve been meaning to finish for a few months.
When I was little, I read: I had a voracious appetite for books, and for amusing myself with stories and characters, and this gave me unparalleled creative skills and an insatiable thirst for adventure. There are times when I wish I could be one of those girls who kicks every guy’s butt at video games, but I’m not. Instead, I could kick your butt in an iambic pentameter-off. And that’s something that I am far more proud of than being able to play Super Mario Brothers.
When I lived in Paris, I lived without a cell phone for quite a few months. After losing my phone at a concert (don’t judge, I was studying abroad), I thought about getting a new one, but it seemed unnecessary: the group of friends that I traveled with was made up of the kind of people that you could depend on, and who didn’t need a digital tool to be amused. Instead, we would make plans on the Internet or when we saw each other, and stick to them. We enjoyed the beauty of the city, gluing our eyes to the splendor of the City of Lights and its rich culture rather than to our computer screens. Were there times that not having a phone was frustrating? Yes. But overall, I am glad that I gave it up for a while. Now, when I go to the gym, or more importantly, to an art museum or movie, I leave my phone in the car or at home. When you do that, you allow yourself to completely immerse yourself in what you are doing in that moment, and isn’t that what life is all about?
So here’s my plea to you, the people of the world:
1. Learn when to leave your phone at home. An hour-long yoga class does not require a Blackberry, and the last thing I want to hear when I am admiring a piece of priceless art is your cheesy ringtone echoing through the halls. If you are at dinner with friends, or especially a date, leave it in the car. Focus on who you are with – that’s what you will remember.
2. And most of the time, keep it on silent anyway. No one wants to hear “Eye of the Tiger” go off 5 times before you pick up the phone.
3. Pick up a book. I’m serious. Pick up a book and focus on that and only that for an hour. You will feel like a better person because of it, I promise. Or do a puzzle. Focus on something, anything, for 1 hour a day, without checking your voicemail, and you will be 100% happier.
4. Learn how to have a conversation! Make eye contact with the person you are talking to. Be animated. Have an opinion. Care about something. Ask questions, and then listen to the answer. Asking me to explain my senior project while looking down at the game on your phone is rude and inappropriate, and I will call you out on it.
I guess all I’m saying is this: there is a beauty to disconnecting from the world. Today we place so much emphasis on connectivity – and I know, because I’m doing my Senior Project on the impact of social media on different regime types – but in our everyday lives there is enough space to set aside our technology and appreciate not only what we are doing, but the people we are with and what’s going on in their lives. Sending a written Thank You note, or a post-card when you’re traveling, rather than an email will instantly make you the classiest, most fabulous person in all of your friends’ lives. And asking a friend out for lunch or coffee to see how they’re doing will always trump a text or a Facebook chat. Stay classy, everyone – unplug yourselves!