There was a time when we read books. I don't mean nibbling on a few pages here and there between glances at the phone and the television and the laptop perched precariously at the foot of the bed—I mean really read, like forget-to-eat-refuse-to-sleep read, like read until the words get fuzzy and the sky gets dark.
There was a time when we saw beauty. I don't mean acknowledging it through the glowing rectangle of a cellular phone or relegating it to a frozen filtered square on the internet—I mean really got lost in it: dumbstruck, breathless, speechless. Immersed.
There was a time when dinner with a few friends was just that, when legions of others didn't chatter in our pockets or scream from the tabletop or holler up from our laps. There was a time we talked to each other on the train, when we smiled at each other on the sidewalk, when we could go days or weeks without checking back in with the world. There was a time we could detach, live simply, just be.
We're obsessed with these little glowing rectangles of ours, and the big rectangles too. The cell phone, the apps, the email and the social media that's anything but, the cameras and the headphones and the watches that whisper sweet nothings from our wrists. I watch adults playing Candy Crush on airplanes and drivers updating their profiles on highways and grown men who can't enjoy a Sunday outside without checking sports scores every twenty minutes. I watch a world that can no longer focus, and I mourn for it, for the generations to come who may never know what stillness is.
I can't slow the ship, but I can jump off the boat. And bit by bit, I've been lowering myself into those tranquil waters. I've never had much of an internet presence, spare this little blog, and months ago I went further and reduced my phone to its critical functions: dialer, messages, map, music. But still, I feel tied up in a net I just can't get out of.
So last week, I cut the phone leash altogether. I tethered my phone to its power cord and it's been at home ever since, and in just one short week so much is different. I feel more aware, more focused, more still. I ask others on the street for the time and for directions, and the fear of getting lost, of missing out—of whatever—has washed away more quickly than I could have imagined. And this week, a little more. A break from email for the rest of the year, the realization that the world will keep spinning just fine if I don't check my email for a few weeks or months. It's as silly as it is freeing.
This isn't hermitude. I'm still here and I'm still reachable and I still want to see the beautiful faces of this little world, but for now I'm reachable just on terms I can manage: in days, not seconds.
Appiness will not bring you happiness, no matter what the glowing rectangle might promise you. Wondering just how strong a hold the internet has on you? Consider cutting a cord—for the week, for the rest of the year, for however long you can—and see what you think. There's a big beautiful world out there, and if all you're doing is looking down, you just might miss it.