I want to take a moment and talk about something we all have, and we all use: smartphones. They can make you feel like you’re right next to someone 10,000 miles away, but they can also completely detach you from something happening not 5 feet in front of you. I had an experience during my first month of school which I’d like to share with you (if you’re not into it, you know where the ‘back’ button is). It perfectly encapsulates the experience I’m trying to explain:
I was hanging out on the quad in between my classes and I was texting my friends from home with earbuds in, listening to music. My friends from home and I are extremely close, to the point where we talk pretty much every day even with the 14 hour time difference. So I’m sitting there, minding my own business and talking about nothing to people on the other side of the world, and someone comes and sits right next to me and I don’t notice. I mean I vaguely sense someone there, but I’m so engrossed I don’t even really think about it and carry on as if it didn’t happen. It’s not until they tap me on the shoulder that I jerk upright, grab an earbud from my ear and whip my head about that I realize someone is lost and trying to ask me for directions to a nearby train station. I was incredibly embarrassed, and I felt awful, but luckily I knew where she was trying to go and was able to help her no problem.
The sensation that came after it, this overwhelming sinking feeling of guilt, of being too disconnected to my short time in this incredible city, hit me like a brick wall, and that was not so easy to solve. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford a phone plan during my time here in Sydney, and while I’m incredibly grateful for the Google Maps and texting opportunities it provides me with on-the-go, I sometimes forget that that tiny little screen can suck you in.
Two of my closes friends here don’t have phone plans, and while they totally rely on me for navigation whenever we’re together, it sometimes feels like they’re experiencing the city more. I mean I don’t know what I’d do without service on those late nights when I’m out and lost and alone, or I make a new friend in a bar and want to add them on Facebook, but aside from that I feel like it’s been holding me back. So shortly thereafter I made the decision to keep my phone’s data off. Of course, part of the reason was to save money (data=time, and we all know time=money), but it was really more just that I wanted to be able to fully commit myself to this experience. Sometimes, those random one-off interactions like the one I just told you about can become something more, as they have increasingly since I began this new phone-reduced saga in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s hard to completely unplug from the online world and just live in the now- honestly I sometimes don’t know what I’d do on my 1:15 commute to and from work every Thursday. But it feels so good just to let go, realize that you don’t need to be in constant contact with the rest of the world, and just take the bus without checking your Instagram feed or lay out on the quad with total awareness of what’s going on around you.