The WiFi password. That is the first thing we ask for when we check into the hotel. Not another set of keys. Not the breakfast hours. Whether the gym is open 24hrs. We need the WiFi — when in fact, we hop on a plane to escape, to some extent, the daily regimen we yearn, and often profess, to leave behind. A few weeks. A long week-end. A fucking day. Nowadays, even the most remote places in the world offer the service. Best-selling author Jon Kabbat-Zin first published “Wherever you go, there you are” in 1994. Twenty-five years later, the master of mindfulness could have easily retitled it Wherever you go, there is your phone. Albert Einstein predicted it. Thousands of satirical cartoons already pointed it out. Repercussions practically replaced the birds and the bees talk with our children. I startled when I spotted my eighteenth-month niece swipe her cute little index finger through my android. Not accidentally. There is no bursting the bubble, especially since the bubble grows bigger, stronger, more versatile by the minute. So many Apps. So much memory. So efficient. The marketing is great; although androids and iPhones’ lives are so short that companies should soon rethink their numeral or alphabetical legacy. Ultimately, whether we admit to being slaves to the little culprit or not, there is no denying that mobile phones have become an extension of ourselves. We have never been more wired, never been more plugged-in; and around the world, around the clock — we are, and need to be, unfailingly connected. Or dare I say, disconnected.
Disconnected, because I do not remember the last time I sat through an entire film without, so-called, multitasking. Disconnected, because I check my notifications even before taking a piss in the morning. I always want to pee badly as soon as I wake up. Disconnected, because I no longer eat without taking a photo of my meal first. I used to take coffee & cigarette breaks; now I catch myself running back to my desk because I forgot to bring my mobile along. At the same time, technology is the only instrument that minimizes the thousands of kilometers between my loved-ones and me. I see my godchildren grow up from afar. I do not miss a thing. Sure, it is double-edged sword. While digitalization has, without dispute, improved our lives in miraculous ways, it often feels like — I often feel like, what was supposed to be an accessory, ends up being the one controlling the rhythm of the day. The one moderating conversations. Even worse — and here is where I draw the line: the one sustaining relationships — even creating them. Disconnected, because people look at screens instead of each other during dinner to fill in the gaps. I have seen many open the Grindr or Tinder App while already in a bar. Lovers would rather send the crying emoji via WhatsApp than actually see each other cry. I have been googled before I even go in. The closer to actual, physical reality; the more it seems to require a digital counterpart first. Have our digital identities taken over our authentic selves? I draw the line here.
Truth is, I had to spend three days on a boat expedition from El Nido to Coron in Palawan to discover just how much and how often I let the little culprit dictate my everyday. My holidays. I will be dramatic, my mere existence. Three days may seem insignificant in the big scheme of things; but a stretch if we looked at our phones, without purpose, a second ago. It was liberating as it was necessary, because I had not felt more present, more mindful, more in sync with my surroundings, my peers, my thoughts — with myself, in a long, long time. Four years to be precise, because the Trans-Siberian was the last time I not only let my phone down; interestingly enough, I also did not have the urge, even less the desire, to check whether I was missing something. Fact is, I was. I missed the ‘real’ reality — tangible, in the moment, transcient reality. People go on a technology detox, with good reason; however, it is not because they want to disconnect — quite the contrary, it is because of our human prerequisite to connect, rather reconnect. Without the pressure of a selfie-ready memory, without instant gratification, without scrolling through the moment — to enjoy a cup of coffee, devour a feast, have a five-hour conversation, to live the rhythm of the day — with undivided attention. Funny thing is, I did not turn off my phone during this heavenly trip across Palawan — and to my surprise, the battery’s lifespan actually lasts so long, I reckon as long as the good old, unbreakable Nokia 3310 — when phones were really used only to communicate (and occasionally play the very much missed snake game). I usually charge my phone every night.
My nephew and niece will not grow up, literally, offline — unlike my generation and the one before me. Still, we lived the shift to know what we have to teach them — even if it is the simplest of lessons: I learned a long time ago that the things we do not document are the things we adore to remember. That the only ‘real’ thing to like is ourselves and our own lives. That, fundamentally, all the good, and all the bad — deserve our full, present, mindful affection. We do not want to miss a thing. We have never been more wired, never been more plugged-in, a calming sense of relief when that cascade of curved lines turns black; but to quiet the noise once in a while, to focus on our world rather than the entire world once in a while, to polish our authentic selves once in a while — life itself is the best filter.