This holiday season I did something very unusual — I left my phone at home. For 16 days I was blissfully away from the electronic leash that dominates my, and most others, lives.
It is a truly American thing that taking a vacation is remarkable. We have such an obsession with working and with the new technologies available to us we expect, and are expected, to be available at all times, to all people. It is a horrid concept and frankly after having been away for almost three weeks, I am more relaxed and comfortable in my own skin than I have been in years.
My vacation spot of choice this year was Ajijic, Mexico, a little community on Lake Chapala in the state of Jalisco. The population is heavily saturated with ex-patriate Americans, Canadians and Europeans who are retired and writing their memoirs.
I spent the first week sleeping and working on my tan poolside. I did not realize how deeply exhausted I was. Unplugging from the constant pressure to check e-mail, text messages, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates took some effort, but man was it worth it.
One of the benefits that I noticed was not just a relaxing of my body, but of my thought process, which paradoxically resulted in increased creativity. The persistent chatter of a to-do list was gone and it allowed other thoughts and ideas to float up and be developed. I suppose it was a bit like Roald Dahl’s writing shed, a place to retreat from the “real world” so that the imagination can begin to run free again.
In our ever-connected life we lose the ability to sit back and see the big picture. We also lose the ability to be truly present with the people we are sitting with when we are constantly responding to texts, posts and phone calls. I’ve noticed this more of late when I have lunch with someone and they cannot put their phone away for an hour. It is an ironic twist that in a constantly wired world, we are losing touch with each other in person.
This Saturday, I was at the Aero Theater getting ready for a Buster Keaton double feature and all around me people were online with others who weren’t in the room and ignoring the person seated next to them. I saw iPads, iPhones and Galaxies glowing in the darkened room before the first flickers of the movie started. Tweets and texts were going off while conversations were started and stopped.
It was ironic to me that movie fans are there to watch a classic artist from a simpler time while being fully connected. Maybe they were just looking up Buster Keaton’s IMDB rating or seeing if he had a fan page on Facebook, but I doubt it.
Our society has become so plugged-in that we don’t connect as well as we used to, in my opinion. I feel a little disrespected and devalued whenever I’m out with a friend and they are checking their texts, e-mail or Facebook updates. It seems to me that if we are going to be in each others’ presence then we should really make an effort to be present.
One of the benefits that I noticed while on my hiatus from technology was the ability to really focus on a conversation with the person I was with. I was able to follow their conversation more completely, and emotionally I was able to connect in a deeper way.
I made two resolutions this year; the first is to put the phone down more, be present in conversations, and ask that those who are with me do the same. It just seems like a more genteel way of being.
The second resolution I made was to take more vacation time. I notice that I always get a lot of work done the week before a vacation, and the week after a vacation. So obviously if I take a week off every two weeks, I’ll be at my highest productivity level.
We’ll see if I can pull that off.
David Pisarra is a divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310)664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra