When I leaned over the toilet to pick up my glasses from the back of it, the stupid, hipster, sideways breast pocket of my hoodie released my iPhone into the drink. Without hesitation (but not without some yelling) I plunged my hand into the toilet, pulled out my phone and plunged it into a jar of rice in the kitchen that had been sitting there almost as if it was prepared for just such an occasion. The Internet - though as-yet lacking in reliable and cohesive commedia dell'arte research material - is awfully good at keeping one informed of the restorative properties of monocot seeds vis-à-vis drowned status symbols.
I won't go into the state of the toilet's bowl when the dive and dunk took place. And you're welcome.
And so now, and in fact for the past >48 hours, my phone has sat idly in a soon-to-be-disposed-of jar of rice on my counter. Wednesday night, or perhaps Thursday morning, I will retrieve it, pick the grains from out its orifices, charge it and see what happens and what will never happen again once it is turned on. It's like an amazing game of chance that I did not wish to play, thrust upon me by eccentric fashion choices and erratic podcast-listening habits.
I'm hardly the first to write about being phone-less for a time, and my experience is not new. I've felt a phantom limb in my right trouser pocket, some wisp of a weighty wafer that occasionally buzzes against my thigh, and then is not there when I go to pat it quiet. I've felt lost, and been nearly literally lost in search of a particular coffee place on my lunch break. I've contacted my nearest and dearest in an email out of which I could not quite keep a semi-panicked tone, alerting them of how they could contact me, and of course all of my Facebook influence has gone into making sure my 600+ "friends" aren't confused by the sudden drop-off in visual media in my timestream.
I've also been reminded of something good, now thirteen years gone.
When I first moved to New York, I bought a pager. This was a half-and-half decision. Half was for want of liquid assets. The other half of my reasoning, however (bolstered as so many of my decisions at the time were by the friction of my then-girlfriend's opposite opinion), was that a cell phone would tie me down and make me a servant to its interruptions. This was, mind you, prior to email push notifications and in-plan SMS messaging, though
prior to the screening delights of caller I.D. It was just the notion of being called to which I objected.
In under three months, I closed my pager account and upgraded to a cell phone. I have never been without one since.
Those of you who have or do not live in an urban environment may not have a full appreciation of my relationship to my cell phone. I've written a little bit before (see
) about the metamorphic effects that portable media devices have had on society. We could go on all day about the myriad ways in which these glorious, seductive machines have helped us carve out private space in an environment that would rob us of every inch of personal boundary. We'd need another day for how many ways the same tools have connected us with others regardless of differences in time, geography and even language. Just about anyone, anywhere, who has even the most basic mobile phone can at least appreciate the altered landscape of situations of emergency and plain ol' personal agency. For example, pre-info-phone I used to call my friends with desk jobs and ask them to look things up for me when I was on the go. People with flip phones still do that.
What I forgot, and that of which being phoneless has reminded me, is how it feels to be free. I know that's corny. I fully acknowledge that freedom is too abstract to properly define, much less describe as an emotion or sensation, and that anyway what I'm writing about here is little more than a personal perception. What's definitive, and what shocks me, is that I forgot.
I forgot this feeling, this sensation of being untethered, of stepping out the door - any door - and simply not knowing what might happen. Even happily (well: semi-happily) plugged into my blaring iPod shuffle, I am instinctively more alert, aware from a subconscious place that at any moment I will be called upon to be resourceful for myself. That makes it sound a bit panicked, and I admit to a mild thrill, but what the sensation is more akin to is that of arriving in a new country. Maybe even one in which you don't speak the language. All is slightly more interesting, slightly fuller with possibility.
An example: On my lunch break, I wanted to find a small side table for our nursery (finding Mud coffee was a little side-mission I tacked on to this). This table had to fit some very specific dimensions and criteria, and I wasn't sure where to look, and I didn't think of it while I was set at my computer and had Google at my fingertips. So I walked. I walked a lot, at a good clip, and past and through a variety of places, only half of them planned. I didn't find the table. Instead, I learned about options, narrowed my criteria and had new ideas about how to solve a mundane issue. Most significant - I wasn't bored. Nor was I anxious. I was engaged.
It's ironic how much discussion of engagement is involved when we discuss Internet media and marketing. Subconsciously, I've come to think of "engagement" as a kind of rapt attention, a push-button-get-pellet reflex, as whatever twitch has kept me comin' on back to build a quirky little empire in my
app. But real engagement is something different, something more owned than possessing of us, and the ultimate irony is that real engagement has been my artistic focus for over a decade and I FORGOT what it FEELS LIKE.
My argument for the theatre as a relevant - in fact necessary - form of expression in contemporary society is: It is the most accessible one for carrying us from a virtual-experience comfort zone through to actual experience. Like it or not, we experience the majority of our entertainment (and an rapidly increasing portion of our life) through a window. We are protected, anonymous, insulated, with planned and recorded media for which we choose the time and place, brilliantly lit in a clean frame. Live theatre is uniquely designed to utilize this frame - this proscenium - to transport audiences from twitchy, push-button catharsis to actual engagement with stories, issues and communities.
I am not going to give up on-the-go Internet access. Much as I have flirted with quitting Facebook, I don't see that happening any time soon either (though really: gang: we can do all that stuff
their privacy and proprietary bullcrap: I'm just sayin'). What I may do, once this respite from personal technology has passed, is occasionally leave my cell phone at home. I may head out the door to where I do not know.
Many people I know can nurture that sense of freedom and engagement on a daily basis with full access to their technology. (These are often the same people who have no sense of shame about keeping me waiting for ten or more minutes, and who are way more fun at parties.) I can not. I'd suggest you test yourself - wherever you may think you fall on the scale - and see what being untethered teaches you.