I arrived at the Paris airport, knowing only a handful of French words and phrases, holding a map of the city I picked up at the information desk, with the address of the place I was staying written on the first page of my otherwise blank journal. And … I had no cell phone to help me find my way.
I followed the signs with the little trains on them. Paid for my ticket with the Euros I had exchanged at the airport. Picked a Metro stop that appeared to be in the general vicinity of the apartment I was staying at and proceeded to lug my 50 pound suitcase up and down countless flights of stairs.
When I emerged from the Chatalet station with a kink in my neck and a numb right bicep, it was raining. I had no clue where I was. I was panic stricken.
When I went to Amsterdam in 1999 for a college exchange program, I arrived the same way. But there was no such thing as having a cell phone back then. Even when I went to Paris back in 2006, my clunky, old model was crude at best, no GPS, no email, no Google. Standing there completely lost, I realized my survival skills in this particular area had gone soft. The place in my brain that used to know how to solve problems like this had resigned.
I started to think that my choice to go sans cell phone for my trip was a bad one, wandering around the 4th Arrondissement in the rain, with a beastly piece of luggage. Under normal circumstances, I would whip out the GPS router on my iPhone, or Google the address, or text someone and ask for help. Instead, I hailed a taxi and it drove me five blocks to my apartment.
That first day without my phone was a struggle. I was jet lagged and lost and I missed the ding of my text messages. I longed to see my emails. Did anyone miss me? Was anyone trying to reach me? Was I missing anything? How had I become so dependent on this little, aluminum rectangle? And who was I before I had one? I’d have to figure it out.
Once I moved past the initial without-cell phone-in-a-foreign-country anxiety, I discovered something else: that my attachment to my cellphone is robbing me of my happiness in certain ways. Below, some things I learned about myself while spending time apart from my cell phone.
1. Being lost isn’t that bad. Sure, it’s comforting to know that I could whip out my iPhone, use my GPS feature and find out exactly where I am, but what’s fun about that when you have nowhere to be and you’re in Paris? There’s certain satisfaction in being lost and eventually stumbling upon being found. There’s a joy in walking the wrong way down a Rue or a Passage and discovering a tiny boutique with a pair of French sunglasses that you know you must buy. I bought them. I’m wearing them in the picture above while hanging out my French balcony.
2. I don’t give myself enough time to “have a think.” While I was busy getting lost and found and lost again, I was walking and thinking, and having new and creative thoughts that weren’t filled with what time I had to be where and whose email I had to return. Wise man, John DeVore, once said to me: “It is solved by walking.” I think about this all the time. When you are walking and doing nothing, you are giving yourself a chance to “have a think” as my friend’s British boyfriend calls it. I need more time in my life to have a think.
3. My cell phone keeps me from being fully present in the moment. All this talk about being lost and having a think brings me to my next point: You’re not actually having a think if your nose is buried in your cell phone. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, if your cell phone is there, you’re distracted by phone calls/text messages/Facebook updates/emails/news items being or about to be transmitted to you. You’re not fully noticing the things around you. You’re not noticing that the same bum with the same dog seems to be on every corner. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating, in a week, I saw him no less than 10 times on 10 different street corners. One day I gave him my leftover gelato cone because I was like, “Dude, I’m impressed by how you get around. You deserve some ice cream.”
4. I am more open to Synchronicty. Carl Jung defined Synchronicity as two or more events that are unlikely to occur together happening in succession and creating a new meaning. Maybe you don’t believe in this concept. That’s fine. Call them crazy coincidences then. Without my cell phone for a week, I started to experience a bunch of crazy coincidences. I saw two people I knew in Paris, two days apart. One on a bus and one climbing a hill in Montmarte. I had no idea either of them would be in Paris, nor was I in contact with either of them before traveling there. Then, in the second half of the week, I started reading a book that the guy I was dating recommended to me. I bought it at a second-hand book store in New York before I left. When I opened it up in France, in the center, was an old Paris metro ticket. The following night, I went to see a jazz show. I was sitting next to a gorgeous French man (not that they are hard to come by … and they dress so well!!). We started talking at the end of the show, and his name was the same as the guy back home. Then, I accidentally left the book on the plane from Paris to Dublin. It never made it back to the states. What does it all mean? I haven’t figured it all out yet … but something. The point being that to experience Synchronicity, you need to be receptive to it, not fiddling with your text messages.
5. Text messages and emails make me anxious. I love getting text messages and emails. Seriously, I do. They make me feel loved and important. Each one is like a little, blinking present. But also, they make me feel tense, because I feel like I need to manage them all. Return them, delete them, file them, add stuff to my to-do list, change plans. I learned that my sense of urgency has become fucked up. Just because that text message is dinging, lighting up the screen, in my face, that doesn’t mean I need to return it ASAP. These things can wait. Which is why I’ve decided, from now on, to put my phone away and turn it to silent while doing other things. No more checking it all the time. No more leaving it out on the desk while I work or on the table while I have dinner with friends.
6. My cellphone makes me depend less on my instincts. As my trip went on, I started to get more comfortable relying on my instincts, navigational and otherwise. By the end of the week, I was questioning myself less. I felt proud every time I arrived at an intended destination or had a revelatory thought. I need my instincts. All of them. In every way. They can never be replaced by technology. Never.