By the time I made it up the one flight of stairs to my hotel room at the Southern Sun in Maputo, I realized I didn't have my iPhone with me. I hustled back down to the restaurant where I'd just finished breakfast and when the greeter said "hello again" I let her know I was just there to retrieve my phone. But it wasn't on the table. There were no guests at any of the five surrounding tables whom I could ask if they'd seen it leave. Of course the wait staff knew nothing about it, and in an instant, the center of my digital life was gone.
I've had a "smartphone" since there have been smartphones, starting with a Palm Trio 600. After returning from Ethiopia, where there was no cell-phone internet, I bought an iPhone 3G (the second iPhone). Since then I've had an iPhone 3Gs, 4, 4s, and 5. I'm due for an iPhone 6 in October when they come out. My entire life is on my iPhone: all my music (23gb), podcasts, thousands of photos, contacts, calendar, iMessage, four email accounts, 40 or so apps for everything from weather to stocks to Facebook... you get the idea. So, the same hour I knew my iPhone was doubling some waiter's monthly wage, I was researching what to get in the gap until the iPhone 6 comes out. Maybe an old iPhone from ebay? A Windows phone? The interface is compelling... Maybe an iPad mini that will fit in my jacket pocket? I continued to research.
And in the ensuing four days I noticed my life changing in interesting ways. The iPhone is the perfect thing to have when you have five minutes to kill: look at the weather, look at my stocks, look at email (endlessly), take a selfie for Facebook, play a game, and so forth. But in the last four days I haven't been able to "use" that time. I've had to just breathe and look around and see what's there. I've had to notice the feral cats begging for fish from the kitchen, look at the pink sky above the Zambezi, listen to the unitelligible but lyrical conversation of the group of local women at the next lunch table, and be generally plugged in to my environment. Because I have an ongoing self-improvement project of being more mindful and present, not being able to plug into my digital world has forced me to be more of both.
Now don't get me wrong: this isn't one of those tiresome screeds about how the digital world is destroying humankind by taking us away from the wonders of the physical world surrounding us. I think that the default assumption that the physical world is somehow more worthy than the digital is a load of luddite crap. Telling me that writing an email to my Mom on the Metro is somehow emptier and less worthy than making excruciating and innane small-talk chatter with a stranger is extrovert propaganda at best.
So I'm thinking of an experiment: not having the cell phone for a while after I get back to the US and see how it helps (or doesn't) with my mindfulness. I might not be able to do so, but for a while I will and I'll write about the effects.