My digital diet
What I learned when my phone broke
By Susanne Janssen
It happened one happy evening, in the beautiful Dolomite Mountains. After a sunny vacation day admiring the majestic rocks, wildflowers, meadows and pine trees, I just wanted to scroll through my pictures and send some to my family.
But my phone’s home screen wouldn’t move. Nothing. I couldn’t even turn it off. Even a hard reset didn’t fix the problem. “Well, I will Google a solution tomorrow,” I thought, both sleepy and worried. “Maybe it’s only overheated. Maybe the altitude.”
As it turned out, there was no easy fix, such as pressing one button for a really long while or banging the phone gently on one side. There was no fix at all. My phone was alive, yet I couldn’t get anything out of it.
I was on vacation, so I thought: “I don’t need to be reached for important decisions. So why not some digital fasting?” The idea of being detached from all news sounded great, but it was hard — like when you think about a great diet and become grumpy once you start. I missed connecting … I missed hearing what my family and friends were doing.
Yet I had more moments to really enjoy what I was doing. While hiking, I admired the beautiful patterns of clouds, the alternating meadows and patches of trees, the ever-changing colors of the rocks. I had more opportunities to take everything in, without worrying about the right moment for a picture, or deciding if that gorgeous perspective would look great on a photograph, too.
I did not even think about posting pictures, because there was no way to do it! And when everyone else took out their phones on the peak of a mountain, I just had to smile and enjoy the moment. How many moments have I wasted because I was already wondering with whom I could share that photo?
I had more time to pray, be it during long hikes, or while waiting for my fellow hikers. No temptation to interrupt the inner conversation by checking my messages and email! It helped me to be more focused and think about what really matters.
I was more available to help because nothing distracted me from doing so — when the couple hosting us extracted the honey from their bee hives, learning which herbs to use for a great salad, or harvesting flowers that are edible and good for our body.
No buzzing or beeping sound interrupted me while I was listening to someone. And I asked myself, “Am I really commanding my phone or is the phone commanding me?”
Yet eventually I gave in. After some time, I was able to download my messenger on my friend’s tablet, and I could communicate with the rest of the world, at least when I was at home.
And there were a lot of things that I
missed — like taking pictures! I missed being able to react and send little notes, assuring a friend that I was thinking of his or her difficult situation, or greeting my cousin who had to work during the summer. Maybe because I had to give up my phone for a couple of days, I communicated in a more conscious way. I appreciated the gift that our modern means of communication are. Weren’t they invented to connect people, instead of stressing us out?
Coming back after more than three weeks, I learned that there was no hope for my phone. I needed to get another one because being in communication demands it. But it has made me realize how much I have to lift my eyes from the device to see who’s next to me and what God wants to show me right now, in the real world. Because being in a virtual world, I could miss out on reality.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, novelist George Orwell foresaw this occurring. Big Brother says: “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.”
It’s literally in my hands whether I miss these moments: enjoying nature, people and connecting with God. Being touched by reality, by the wounds and the joys it brings. Only then can I share what I gained from that reality — through all kinds of media channels.
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