As it slipped from my hands and gravity took charge, I simply thought, "This is bad." My cat-like reflexes attempted a save but ultimately failed, and there lay my Blackberry at the bottom of what seemed like a very deep body of water filling a very deep porcelain toilet. What initially surprised me was the haste with which I plunged my hand into this water at what seemed like an obvious time for reflection and strategic planning. If someone were watching, they would have thought I was saving a very tiny drowning child. This lack of hesitation was the first red flag; however, I was too caught up in the moment to notice.
With my Blackberry's demise went a series of ongoing BBMs (for the uninitiated, an instant messaging feature) regarding whereabouts, plans and utterly meaningless exchanges. Enter panic. I was suddenly unplugged from the grid, and my radio silence would remain a mystery to those people until I could get back on the radar. To exacerbate this wave of panic, it was now Friday night and my tech support people were pumpkin-ized until Monday morning. Enter feeling of social paralysis. How would I let my people know where I'd be, and how would I know where they were? What if I missed a tweet about something they liked, hated, found interesting or dreadful?! Did someone just tag a photo of me?
The next morning came, and as I continued to fret over my disconnectedness, my charming dog Paco reminded me that it was time for a walk (with a face like this, who could say no?).
So off we went. While Paco's paws pattered along the pavement, my paws instinctively groped the crevices of my pockets searching in vain for my Blackberry. Second red flag. Apparently, I had become Linus and the Blackberry, my blanket. After four or five empty-handed attempts, I surrendered. I simply looked up and continued walking. It had been a while since I walked uninterrupted and my eyes started to absorb the full extent of my surroundings: people walking by, interactions taking place, the shapes of buildings, etc... And while I had to suppress the pangs of envy watching others tap away at their devices, a few people were actually looking right back at me. And with that came an occasional smile or nod hello. This wasn't an earth-shattering, revelatory moment; it was just pleasant. I had forgotten what it felt like to truly "own" my time. No longer was I subject to the whims (read: updates, tweets, e-mails, chats) of others, and it was allowing me to interact with live, in-the-flesh humans in the most basic way. This short 30-minute walk belonged to me, Paco and the neighbors, and to us alone.
When I returned from my walk, I felt slightly better about my Blackberry-less state. Although part of me missed the constant interaction, another part of me enjoyed the growing sense of liberation. It wasn't until I started to work on some stalled projects that I really understood the extent to which the mere presence of my Blackberry fueled my ADD. I could be fully engaged in a project one moment, but on hearing the chirp of a bird (tweets) or the chime of a gong (text message), my head would pop up like a foraging squirrel suddenly aware of a potential threat, and I'd get side-tracked, sometimes permanently. Now I had time for singular focus, and in three short hours I had finished a blog post, written a business proposal and prepared a newsletter. I hadn't been this productive in a while, and it became clear that if I was going to do more with my waking hours than gorge myself on incoming content, I would need to change some habits before reconnecting to the grid.
So, I now make it a point to leave the Blackberry at home when I take my dog for a walk. I also silence it at various points throughout the day. I'm more productive, and I prefer to end my day having accomplished a bunch of my own tasks as opposed to having read about the tasks others have completed. And it turns out that I like most of my friends more when I'm not subject to a perpetual ticker detailing the minutiae of their brain. It's not that I don't care about my friends, it's just that I'd prefer to hear about the bigger things in life. This is one of the reasons why in our recent launch of Facebook Connect on mySomeday, we decided to announce only moments of significance and not minutiae. People have to earn updates to their Facebook Wall by actually doing something affirmative, like completing a step in their plan or achieving a goal.
If you've already had a similar experience in disconnecting, or if you decide to give it a try, please share your story. I'm curious to know if I'm part of a growing movement to limit the personal use of mobile technology.
Follow Joseph Satto on Twitter: www.twitter.com/freshairny