The Day I Turned Off the Phone

Back in the day, when the only season was Spring, rains were always gentle, puddles demanded splashing, hills were always “down,” and my friends were all impossibly attractive and incredibly intelligent (oh wait, that still holds true), I had my very first network account. This was a time long before the internet as we know it now, but still younger than ARPANET. Mosaic was someone’s pipe dream, there was no Netscape, and the world had yet to discover the joys of creating art from the million and a half AOL installation discs we’d eventually receive weekly. Meg Ryan wasn’t trained to wrinkle her nose adorably at the sound “you’ve got mail” and neither were we for that matter. I was a beth@ then, because there were no other Beth’s out there, and I tunneled around using “telnet” occasionally FTPing a bit so I could “get” and “put” things. I sent notes using something called “Elm” although “Pine” worked, too. And I knew the very basics of Unix – well, enough to occasionally (and sometimes accidentally) open the vi editor, and would promptly get stuck for long moments of irritating, swear-fest fun. My MMO’s were on things called MUDs  (LP, not Diku, of course) or MUshes. It was new, wholly consuming, and exciting.

I was addicted to what would become my personal slippery network slope.

My roommates would roll their eyes as I’d make weekly runs to Taylor Hall just to check-in with this new and strange emerging world. I’d peek into my mailbox and immediately thrilled if, on the off chance, I received one of these virtual mail gems. It was fantastic! The world was quickly becoming smaller, more accessible, and I was able to chat up my fellow nerds (all around my age) who sat somewhere around the globe – likely on their own campuses. It was new, exciting, and quite honestly one I’ve been indulging in for all of these long decades since.

It took awhile, years in fact, but eventually friends and family members discovered it, too and the world became even smaller.

Then came cell phones, and we were even more connected than before. I should mention here that I gave up talking on the phone years ago. While I had my own line in high school, and would talk for hours (10 was my high school record) telemarketing for several years broke me of that need to speak to people on the cursed thing. (FYI, if you speak for 10 hours then try to convince your parents you’re “too sick” to go to your summer job, you “may” get a lesson both responsibility and accountability, and a ride to work.)  I remember that first cell phone. It was chunky with a ridiculous looking antennae, and I’d practically hold it away from me with two fingers as if it was offensive. Really, the only good thing about it is it allowed me to talk to Jay. Then there was the Nokia lollipop in hot pink, and the electric Motorola Razr (also hot pink), and the best thing I could say about them were “they’re hot pink” or “hey, I’ve made the Pink Panther my ring tone.”  I used those early phones as tools – things only in my life to contact emergency vehicles should my car break down. Even texting back then was a special nightmare as I mashed keys multiple times hoping I could eventually work out “hello” or something close enough that I could just stop typing on it. You know the infinite monkey theorem was probably blown apart here, because there’s no way any works by Shakespeare would ever be produced. I just couldn’t think of a good reason to have one (save the emergency vehicle thing).

And then I received my first smartphone. On that day the heavens opened up and the angels sang (true story). I had a mini-tablet with me all the time – one with a keyboard – one with unlimited texts. GLORY BE!!! I finally understood the micraculousness of this electronic wizardry! I know the weather ALL THE TIME!!! Why go outside? What does outside know anyway? All of my music! (err… I went too far – just put in “a lot” there) is right there! (Not ABBA though; I’m not sure what happened there.)  All of my contacts! My calendar! It’s electronic magic! Notifications tell me of people’s birthdays, so in theory I can’t forget. Who knew they were even born? I do now! And having it gave me that old familiar thrill as if I were typing > /telnet > open bessel.umd.edu 2000 for the first time. You see that, right? You had that same experience?

Screw being present any more. I had access to the most useless information (and some useful, sure) 24/7. What happened last season on the Expanse? I have no clue, but if you need information on Jason Statham’s latest movie projects, I got that! I have a babysitter to hold my hand through awkward situations. Why worry about not knowing anyone at a gathering, when I can ensure it by starting a text exchange with a known friend? And I finally get all of those friends who have made me insane over the years as they’ve checked out while we were doing things. No longer do I try to announce myself by being right there – in person saying, “Hello! Oh no? Ok, I’ll wait until you’re done.” We can now spend time together without all that bothersome spending time together.

The thing I’ve tried not to be. Well, here I am!

Thursday I realized I’d become more than a little obsessive about my phone, and particularly about waiting for texts, so I stopped. I turned it off.  I chunked it into my purse, and decided not to worry about it (which I’ve been fairly successful at). And you know what? Its been ok. I’ve somehow managed. I went to a meeting and remained attentive the entire time – on a Saturday, no less. I navigated to a new location by looking at a map. I actually wrote out a list for the grocery store, and I’ve talked on my land line. People actually called here to just check-in, which was awesome. Now granted, I have been informed that I’m quite old fashioned and a bit quaint for having a land line, but hey I’ll take that.

Tomorrow I’ll flip the thing back on, and we’ll see if I missed anything. I strongly suspect I haven’t. I also strongly suspect, I’ll dive back into my co-dependent relationship (see that, I’ve kind of anthropomorphized the phone to make it share a small bit of the blame – authors can do that – it’s the magic of words), but I do see more days like this in my future – days when I may just shut the thing off and re-engage with the world a little more – and it will be ok then, too.