Convenience: At What Cost?

Early this morning -- after drinking a cup of chai tea to combat the cooler temperatures and teaching a hot yoga class -- I stopped for gas. 

Almost immediately, once I stepped out of the car, punched the necessary buttons and heard the tank guzzling, I pulled out my phone and started scrolling.

And then I thought: wait. What am I doing right now? What do I feel compelled to "check" -- Facebook and Instagram? My work email at 7:15 a.m.? The weather? My text messages? What, exactly?

Nothing important, that's what. I had no reason to be on my phone, so I put it down, and looked around, and noticed.

The smell of gas surrounding early morning commuters like me checking an errand off their to-do list in order to get where they needed to go.

The brisk wind cutting across my face as I shivered in my hoodie and dried sweat, thinking about how amazing a hot shower would feel in a few minutes.

The blue, blue sky lighting up with the sun, just in front of a downtown skyline. 

A new Taco Bell with a sign that said, "Don't want to stand in line? Order ahead!"

And I laughed.

Because who is so desperate for their TB fix that they need to call ahead, so that they don't have to wait five minutes in the drive-through or check-out line?! It's fast food, people! What's next -- groceries you can order online and have delivered to your door? Showing up at Starbucks only to pick up your coffee order placed 15 minutes ago?

Oh wait. Ha.

Trust me, I love the convenience of the world we live in. I get frustrated as hell when I go to pay a bill online and have to literally call a customer service representative to deal with an issue (FYI if you provide online bill bay, it should actually WORK; I'm just saying). I live for Amazon Prime and Hulu. I like the quickness of email and texting.

Sometimes, though, I wonder -- doesn't all this efficiency occasionally negate free-standing opportunities to think and connect? Sure, conveniences save time and even money. But at what cost?

There are many articles about our collective addiction to fast-paced, give it to me now, everything, especially at the intersection of commerce and technology. Sherry Turkle, a writer and researcher who studies the psychology of online connectivity, recently published a piece called "Stop Googling, Let's Talk," which has a profound message about the negative impact of multitasking while conversing with others. 

In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.
— Sherry Turkle

Sherry also recently did an interview with Jenny Rosenstratch from Dinner: A Love Story, and there are some powerful, valuable quotes in there, such as: 

Empathy is in crisis. It’s a skill. You learn it. You’re born having the capacity for it, but you’re not born with an empathy ‘chip.’ Or if you’re born with a chip, it needs to be allowed to unfold and practiced. It’s in family conversation where children go through the exercise of learning to put themselves in other peoples’ shoes, and it’s often the shoes of the sibling. When a sibling says this is what’s the matter, you get to hear what’s the matter, you get to hear what the sibling is saying and how he or she is saying it. All these things are key for developing empathy.

. . . If it’s not practiced, then you don’t learn that eye contact is the way to see how someone is feeling, and that face-to-face conversation is how you connect with someone. You don’t learn how to listen and take turns. You don’t learn to let someone speak their piece, and you don’t learn to be interested. Maybe it makes you anxious to listen? That’s ok! Listen some more — that’s a value. It’s through family conversations where you learn that all kinds of feelings are both acceptable and interesting. They don’t have to be hidden, they don’t have to be denied. What matters is that they’re there.
— Sherry Turkle

(Check it, and Sherry's new book, out ASAP.)

There are many moments throughout my day where I feel the urge to fill up silence or solitude with a screen, and lately, I'm trying to pause. Options to move faster, skip the line, order without interruption, avoid contact with a human being . . . they're all around us, if we want them. I'm tempted, lots of times, but here's what I know:  I get one life, and I want to pay attention to it -- not rush through it -- whenever possible. 

So yeah, I stood quietly this morning for 5 minutes while pumping gas. I looked around. I noticed some itty-bitty things about my surroundings. I considered my day. I came home, talked to my husband, pet my dog, made breakfast, got ready for work, and then walked into an actual coffee shop before heading to the office. 

And I didn't mind the line at all.

Hitting the Reset Button

Naturally, I boldly stated last week that I would write ONE HUNDRED BLOG POSTS in honor of #The100DayProject . . . and then we moved, two weeks earlier than planned. Then my phone decided to stop working. And we've had no consistent Internet.

What did I wrote? Zilch. Nada. Nothing at all. A few Instagram posts, but that's it. Which, whatever, right? I always laugh at the bloggers who are like, "Sorry for not posting in two days!" I don't have a big enough readership wherein people are impatiently tapping their fingernails at home, eagerly awaiting another blog post from little ole me. I write because I like it. I blog as a creative outlet. When real life gets in the way, and posting doesn't happen, I don't stress about it. 

HOWEVER.

This challenge was about discipline. While I'm quick to remind myself of all the excuses of the past week -- but we moved! It was hectic! My phone broke! I was tired! I needed extra sleep! -- and all those things prove true, but still. Real life always gets in the way of creativity, doesn't it? That's sort of a mainstay. Hence the need for practicing creativity -- not in the moments when I have no to-do list and am listening to the perfect song and the words are just flowing at my perfectly arranged desk. It happens when I'm waking up early or staying up late to edit a shitty first draft and the dog is barking and I really don't have time for this and watching tv seems way more enjoyable.

Either way, instead of writing, I was living without the Internet or a working cell phone and in the process of moving apartments. I learned a lot, this past week.

I learned that renting a U-Haul doesn't cost, like, a thousand dollars (not sure why I thought it did) and it is so seriously worth it for moving purposes. This comes from the girl who always just moved what would fit in her four-door car and donated the rest. I also realized I've moved every single year for the past 10 years, minus these past three in downtown Des Moines. Sweet math, I know.

We now live on the 3rd floor, which means I get lots of exercise taking Stanley in and out. Actually, Stanley and Stella (the cat) are obsessed with exploring the apartment . . . which is pretty cute during the day and not so much at 3 a.m. when they are racing down the hallway at top speed.

Other pros: way more space. Room for an actual kitchen table. Tons of closets! Nice neighbors across the hall who let us back in the building after we accidentally locked ourselves out at 10 p.m. after moving. Getting a new couch. Redecorating. Decluttering, big time. Having a second bedroom. I repeat: tons of closets! Windows! Every time I walk into the apartment, I feel light and airy and happy.

Cons: Bringing a fully packed U-Haul to the new place and forgetting your keys and getting in an argument about who is responsible for this oversight. Discovering that you own way too much shit. Figuring out a new way to keep the dog out of the kitty litter. The loud noises of the bus station nearby. Grass that hasn't grown in yet, making the yard very muddy. Not having internet at home for 20 days. Not having a couch yet because grown up couches take six weeks to be delivered, I guess. Eating take-out for dinner every night (wait, that's kind of a pro at first). Buying new stuff for the apartment based on your taste and then your partner responds with, "But, the teal doesn't really 'go" with the purple . . ." (You: Really? Since when do you care about things 'going'?)

I learned that living without a (smart) phone is . . . kind of amazing and illuminating.

Turns out I check my phone approximately 47389243 times a day. I use it for yoga -- finding music, creating playlists, responding to sub requests, checking class schedules. I use it for work -- checking email, reviewing calendar appointments. I use it for, well, life -- listening to music, calling people, making to-do lists, looking at social media, texting, checking email regarding volunteer commitments and catching up with friends and wedding planning and whatever else.

And even though I didn't think I was "attached" to my phone -- I mean, I'm not that kind of person -- I am. I absolutely am. Know how I can tell?

When my phone stopped working, I felt actual panic. When it continued to not work, in the form of working for five minutes here and there and then basically acting "dead" for most hours of the day, I felt disoriented. When I took it to Best Buy and the salesman told me I would get my new one in "Oh, about 10 days," I had to refrain from sighing loudly and rolling my eyes. It is embarrassing how many times I literally reached for my phone before remembering it was essentially useless right now. 

So weird. 

At first. Then I really liked it.

I stopped "checking" it every five seconds at work, and got more done. (Shocking.) I stopped feeling scatterbrained in general. We went on a dinner date, and spent the whole time talking to each other (the horror!) instead of letting phones interrupt every now and then. I didn't wonder who was trying to reach me, because, well, they couldn't. Without the constant barrage of social media, email and texting, my mind had more space and freedom to wander, think, create, delight, consider.

Case in point: last Saturday I drove to my sister's for a Ragnar team meeting. It's a 2 hour trip, both ways. Without my phone, I realized I couldn't: 1) call people to catch up, 2) multitask, 3) listen to what I "wanted" to when I wanted to. I listened to the radio, flipping channels. I stared out the window. I made mental lists of ideas, and furiously jotted them down on a piece of paper when stopping for gas. I couldn't call my sister to say "10 minutes away!" which meant I had to . . . you know, rest on the assumption that I would indeed arrive and she would know I was there . . . when I arrived. 

We've also been without Internet at home. Instead of watching television shows and browsing on our phones and whatnot, we ate dinner at our new kitchen table. We put together chairs and organized closets and talked about colors for the bathroom and walked the dog outside and drank wine. 

I learned that I didn't miss being constantly connected, once I got over the hump of attachment. 

I remembered that most things can wait.

I remembered that cars are not phone booths. 

I realized that too many of my connections and relationships are technology-based instead of face-to-face.

I remembered that writing best starts with a piece of paper and a pen.

I remembered that wanting and needing are two different things. I need a lot less than I want, and sometimes what I want doesn't align with what I need. 

I remembered that I don't need constant inspiration from blogs; my mind is fertile ground for quite a lot on its own.

I knew all that stuff, but I forgot. I got distracted. 

At today's yoga class, our teacher suggested a theme of sensuality -- of remembering what feels good about being in our bodies, of rediscovering energy and letting it build, of ridding ourselves of old stories and ideas. How, as women, we forget to tune into our sweetness and our strength, but we can remember on our mats and out in our lives. 

I forgot, but this past week, I remembered. I hit reset.