That is the sound of a text message.
There’s another one.
It is a high pitched bell, like the ones on reception desks that say, “Please ring for service.” The ones that make you feel like a jerk for ringing them.
I try not to bring my phone on the WALK, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. When I’m not walking or writing, I have another job. One that actually pays. And the people with whom I work expect me to be available. They expect me to respond and communicate, often instantaneously. They expected me to be connected. Always connected.
Over the years, I’ve learned the rhythms of my paying job. I can anticipate when expectations will be highest, when I need to be on call. But there are times when no one will need me for a while. I can usually see them coming. An hour here, an afternoon there, when clients will be occupied elsewhere and colleagues won’t need a timely reply. I try to take the WALK during these times. But sometimes I need a WALK and everyone else simply will not cooperate.
Today I spent most of the walk looking down at a tiny screen. I thumbed one typo after another as I stumbled down the uneven path. Occasionally I looked up and saw a new green leaf or a white flower budding. Spring is springing along the path. It wants my attention, but I had none to give today.
Worst…WALK…Ever…I mumbled as I bitterly read another graphical thought bubble in the palm of my hand. But it wasn’t. I’ve had worse. I’ve had quiet, solitary WALKs that were poisoned by my own thoughts; self-doubt, self-loathing, self-sabotage. I’ve had angry WALKs when I just needed to get out of the house after an argument. Today I didn’t have the time or space for any of that. I stayed connected to the world and disconnected from myself, which can sometimes be a saving grace.
Staying connected isn’t as bad as we Luddite curmudgeons pretend it is. Those dings and bongs and tweets and rings are sonic signifiers that someone needs us. These sounds wrest us from an ego-centric world where our problems are the only ones that count. That little handheld connection can spare us the microscope view of ourselves. Hey, we’re reminded, there is someone else out there who wants my attention. That’s not the worst thing in the world.
So what’s the problem? Why do I still think that my life would be better without this damn phone? Why do a still shudder when my pocket vibrates or my earbud rings? Why do I still resent having to stay connected when an unconnected life can be so lonely?
I suppose it’s because the connection has become the thing. The medium is the message. I communicated before this phone. I corresponded before email. I chatted before texts. My life was no less rich or rewarding. In fact, it was more so. Because my attention was paid to the object of the connection. My focus was on the person or idea or event I was connecting with. But that’s changed. Now, the phone is the object of my attention. My connection is to the device. It is always in my hand, my fingers sliding across it, my eyes scanning it for updates. Without it, I feel disconnected. Disconnected from my friends, my clients, my colleagues and, most tragically, from myself.
Until I don’t.
Until I remember that I must disconnect to reconnect. With my work. With my writing. With my family. With my friends. With myself. There is no device that can bring me closer to these things. Only I can do that.
Ding. Ding. Ding.