I Wore a Watch (And I Liked It)
A few days ago my phone shit the proverbial digital bed and left me with a void in my pocket. I tried a hard reset on the thing, tried tethering it to the desktop, and got nowhere. The phone even gave me a Blue Screen of Death, something I hadn’t seen since my PC days. It was a very clear sign that the phone was beyond life support and as it’s medical proxy I made the decision to pull the plug. I spent the next few days with a watch on my wrist and no phone in my pocket.
It felt good.
When Big Gay Ice Cream hit in 2009 I was online what seemed like every waking minute. I was checking twitter for customer issues, checking email for Google News Alerts, or texting with god knows who. It’s no shock that it became compulsive behavior- it has for pretty much everyone. As the business grew so did my need to constantly monitor and grow our online existence and that's a really shitty rabbit-hole to go down. I started getting up in the middle of the night to check Twitter. Checking/worrying/updating/bragging/bitching, it was all overwhelming but I never considered that I might be able to slow down my race to stay ahead of the cyber game.
When I fell apart in 2014 one of the great precipitators was my obsession with connectivity. In retrospect I think I knew that it was contributing to my slide but at the time I wasn't ready to admit the role that it played. It was a legitimately important business concern and I saw no way around the pattern I was stuck in. That fall we took Big Gay Ice Cream Truck out for a tour of the south. It was an exceptionally fun trip and I looked forward to the last segment the most. After our final stop (a gigantic and fun whirlwind success in Oxford MS) we all headed in separate directions. Bryan went up to explore Nashville, Genevieve and her houseboy Adny headed to New Orleans (I think), Buster and I climbed into our huge rental SUV and set off on the long drive home. We started in the early morning and didn’t stop until we found a dog run in Chattanooga. The drive was delightfully brainless- eyes on the road, scratch the dog, let your mind wander. Quite out of nowhere I thought “why is Big Gay Ice Cream driving me mad?” I’d been having a horrible time trying to reconcile my need to constantly attend to work while trying to maintain or forge an independent identity. I didn’t try to answer the question, just enjoyed how my brain seemed to be going rogue.
About 200 miles further along my drive home I looked down at the passenger seat where my phone rested face up, plugged into the cigarette lighter so that the batter wouldn't go below 86%. I have an OCD issue with my phone battery- if it's below 88% I wig out. It was waiting to have my full attention. I said out loud “it’s your fault” then picked up the phone and tossed it back into the cargo area. I let out a big breath and knew that something had happened. I just untethered; I broke a shackle.
Sudden and simple realizations followed. There is no need to constantly respond to email. There is no need to read every comment on Instagram. Facebookers can live through the day without me nursing them. I began re-writing the rules in my head. I decided that I would begin checking emails three times per day. That decision made me grin. I could do that. Social media was similarly scaling down.
When I got home I stuck to my guns. I deactivated all the email accounts on my phone- now if I want to access them I need to do it through a browser which is just enough of a pain in the ass to be a successful deterrent. I couldn’t stop reaching for my phone at every red light so I started throwing it way under the passenger seat. The few people I need to be in frequent contact with were great- all of them agreed that they'd rather have me checking in less often but being more sane.
For the last few days I carried only a wallet and keys in my pocket. No phone. I felt great. I became a joyful luddite. I arranged to meet a friend at a location at a time. She was late and I had no way to panic. I couldn’t call, text, IM or DM her so I sat and waited for her to show up (or not). It was lovely. Instead of flipping out then fucking around on Facebook while waiting for her I sat and watched and listened. Another day I needed to drive someplace unfamiliar so I looked up directions before I left home. Another time I needed to get a message to my dog-walker so I simply left a hand written note for him on the shelf where the dog crap bags are.
I have a new phone. It’s out in the living room somewhere. If you need me the best way to get in touch is by text message- but don’t expect an immediate response. I’ve got my watch on.