I used to jump through all kinds of telecommunications hoops to get internet coverage when I travelled (avoiding the $2398472987 bill from leaving my Australian phone plan connected). Now I give in.
I turn off data roaming and I simply go without coverage for most of the time, connecting to a hotel lobby or cafe’s wifi a few times a day. I did this during my trip to New York and unraveled in the freedom it afforded me. In queues, I just stood there enjoying the vacant time, instead of Instagram-fiddling. And I did emails in batches, thus reducing the influx of superfluous to-ing and fro-ing that happens when you respond to every request as they come in.
I’ve written about etoxing before, and this “space” it brings to life.
But this is the main observation I took from my roamless-data week: it enforced a certain kind of consideration – from myself and others – that I haven’t witnessed in years.
Being disconnected forced everyone to connect with me more mindfully.
Since everyone knew I didn’t have full coverage, we all made more concrete plans. 2pm at Cafe Blah Blah. Be there or be square. Everyone knew they couldn’t email to say they were running late or couldn’t make it. Sure, they could text. And on one occasion someone did – to say they had to cancel, 15 minutes before we were due at dinner. But such was the non-communication groove that I was in, I pretended I didn’t see it and – what do you know – my friend pulled out his finger and got there anyway. And on time. He’d assumed I hadn’t seen his message and actually got considerate and committed. We had a great night, too.
Have you seen this video? My friend Kristine sent it to me. It’s pretty bodgy and the grammar is appalling (clearly the kid’s tech hiatus meant he didn’t have access to spell check). But I like how he got his mates into a more organic, committed, considered way of communicating – leaving notes outlaying concrete plans, for instance. This is how it used to be in my day. You made a plan, you stuck to it, if you were late you got really anxious that the other person would leave without you (I think this was a motivating factor…and, imagine! not having Instagram to fiddle with when you find yourself when your mate gives up on you and leaves you stranded at the bus interchange).
Back then, communication was finite. You wrote a note, or a letter, and it ended there. With email and IM and SMS and Skype chat, it remains open-ended, open to being amended, changed aborted.There was a great piece in the New York Times on the weekend by Mason Currey on the Death of Letter Writing. You might enjoy it.
I’ve also written about how we have such rare moments to truly commit.
We need more concrete commitment in our lives. Sturdier anchors. More fixed parameters. I’ve been feeling lately that everything feels way too floaty and flakey and up in the air. Like we’re all bobbing for apples. You too? Here’s an idea: spend a weekend without your phone. Tell friends in advance. Go out on the front foot and make plans for the weekend – real concrete ones, with a time and place determined – on a Tuesday and create a concrete anchor. And see if it makes things feel less floaty and more pleasingly connected.
Will you try it?