When the Technology Beast Sleeps
I lost my phone on a Thursday at 4:15 p.m. That was the last call I made that day. From the kitchen. Just a routine call to the sitter about pick up schedules. By 5, I had a feeling something was terribly wrong.
At 6, I felt full-scale panic creeping in. I scoured the kitchen. Did it fall from my pocket when I walked the dog? Did I throw it away in a multi-tasking frenzy—clearing clutter, tossing food, dropping the phone in the garbage?
For four days--ninety six hours--my life changed. I was like a 2nd grader who had only memorized three phone numbers in her head: my dad and mom, my sister and my home. And besides, no one answers the home phone anymore, so that did me no good.
And while I love them, my family is not who I talk to hourly about work, car pool, life logistics.
The moms in my village and my colleagues at work were as troubled as me. I’d gone dark. As if I were no longer in town. I was unreachable. “Could she be dead?”
To communicate, I needed to go upstairs, turn on the computer, look up a contact, write it down on a scrap of paper, and then go find a phone somewhere in the house. It was like the 1970s, but worse.
In the 1970s, before we had cell phones surgically attached to our heads, or gadgets for texting implanted in our palms, we had more predictable, organized, civil communication.
We had phones in the house attached to walls that weren’t carried from room-to-room, lost under couch cushions or left at the toilet. We had typed up lists of our neighbors and friends’ numbers, and emergency contacts, taped inside the kitchen cupboard or in a handy junk drawer.
We had a quiet, polite place to make a call that didn’t involve screaming into a Bluetooth from the highway. Like my phone, that was all lost now.
I hunted for a phone in the house, only to be distracted mid-way by another urgent family matter; and by the time I returned to finding a phone, I’d lost the piece of paper with a number on it.
At this point, it would have been easier to communicate by carrier pigeon, smoke signals, hollers over the fence.
My daughter begged me to get a phone. “Mom, it's really bad,” she said.
I told myself this was a teachable moment. “Use it,” I said, “as a sign that your life is too addicted to the immediacy technology allows.”
I used all the Yoga philosophy I could muster: “stay on your mat,” I told myself, repeating the mantra I’d spent thousands of dollars over the years to hear from one yoga instructor after another. “Be calm. Breath. Be in the moment.”
I discovered that there is another way to live when the technology beast sleeps. I actually enjoyed sitting in the kitchen reading the newspaper, not worrying who from my life was pinging me. I liked driving in peace, listening to old rock songs on the radio. Singing out loud. I liked sitting down on a chair to make a call from home. It seemed so civilized.
I asked some of my friends if they ever put their phones away. They admitted it was hard, but they also confessed to enjoying being unplugged when possible. What do they do in the silence of the moment? They exercise, walk, use the gym equipment without checking messages. They knit, play board games with their family, and read.
So it got me to thinking, why not put the phone beast to sleep for at least an hour a day when you normally wouldn’t (during sleep doesn’t count). What would you do during your sacred hour of silence?
But of course, my daughter was right. I needed a phone. But what kind? Should I switch from Blackberry to IPhone? Get a Droid? Will my desktop operating system be compatible? How will I transfer my contacts?
I’d survived the lost phone, but how could I survive getting a new one?
Karen Skelton is the CEO of The Shriver Report. In 2011, she founded Skelton Strategies, a national political and cultural strategy firm. Skelton served for a decade as the Managing Partner of the California practice of the Dewey Square Group, and before that as a prosecutor at the United State Department of Justice, a political advisor in the Clinton White House, and a staffer on five Presidential campaigns. She lives in Sacramento with her husband and two daughters.