August 1st found me phone-less. A week later, August 8th finds me phone-free.
Yes, I’m without a phone. But how I see it is up to me to decide.
My life changed within minutes when I stopped using my phone for everything from grocery lists to telling time to streaming podcasts. For one, I dug my watches out of my jewelry box and started wearing them again. For another, I quickly found that without my beloved weather app, having no clue what the day would bring (weather is a huge topic of conversation all day, every day, in Minnesota) was driving me batty. Behold, my “new” weather app:
But aside from these small inconveniences, the first real challenge reared up on August 3, when I had a solo road trip planned to visit a friend who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a four-hour drive away. Immediately, two people close to me who shall remain unnamed (one of their names starts with “m” and ends with “m” and has an “o” in between) told me in no uncertain terms that not having a phone for this trip was stupid.
That was when I realized that my original “I’m breaking up with my cell phone” declaration might have sounded more all-encompassing than I intended. The point of this month is not to be unsafe, but rather, to remove the constant distraction that a phone brings. In considering the road trip, I planned to bring my phone in case of emergency. (Case in point: When you see a car stopped at the side of the highway, do you pull over to help? No, you don’t, because you assume they have a cell phone and if they need help, they’ll call for it).
While Prince had no phone, he had people. He never traveled without a bodyguard, who undoubtedly had a phone. I have no people, and the people I do have (my children) are often looking to me to be the one in charge. I informed the two very kind and concerned parties that I planned to have the phone in my suitcase. One of them proceeded to tell me this was also stupid, because what if I was in a head-on collision and couldn’t reach my phone?
I had to agree that if I was going to have the phone in the car, it might as well be within reach, so I put it in the console, along with a stack of CDs. (Thank goodness my car has a CD player! I’ve heard that the latest models have eliminated them altogether).
As I drove, I reflected on a 1997 trip I took to Alaska and the Yukon with a group of journalists who were covering a dogsled race. In February. With no phone. We drove thousands of miles on treacherous roads with no service (meaning, no gas stations) in temps that reached 30 degrees below zero in the daytime. On Valentine’s Day, as a special treat, the race organization arranged for satellite phones to be available in Dawson City, Yukon, so people could phone their sweethearts. I called my parents. That was the extent of my communication with the outside world for two weeks.
Now, here I was, some 22 years later, planning a trip in broad daylight, in fine weather, four hours away, with plenty of towns and gas stations along the way, and it had become unthinkable that I would travel without a phone. Ultimately, I decided, this was a good thing when it came to safety. But was it a good thing when it came to feeling self-reliant and confident — and free?
My reverie was broken by a striking realization: I was listening to a CD from start to finish, for the first time in years.
When I stream music these days, I’m usually doing it from playlists of jumbled songs. The idea that it used to feel rebellious when I hit the “forward” button” to skip my less-favored tracks on a CD seemed quaint. These days, I only ever listen to my favorite tracks. But as I listened to an entire CD, even making my way through less-loved songs, made me feel like a better listener. I tried to glean the bigger storyline — the arc — of an album. I even tackled Prince’s 1996 album “Emancipation” — a three-CD set that saw Prince celebrating being free of his Warner Bros. contract as well as his recent marriage to Mayte Garcia — from beginning to end, in sequence, with no skipping over songs. It took hours! I realized the songs were chapters, the CDs were parts, and the album was a book that told the story of someone who struggled with darkness and light, freedom and bondage, commitment-free sex and the commitment of marriage, and had come out on the other side. “Emancipation” is a damn fine album.
At the same time that I was going on a sonic journey with Prince’s “Emancipation,” I had navigation to contend with, as I’d never been to Sioux Falls before. While maps were my fallback position, my car does offer navigation. I haven’t used it in ages because my car’s navigation isn’t “live” and thus doesn’t warn me of traffic jams or road closures. So, normally I prefer to use Google maps on my phone. Yes, it’s gotten to the point that even my car’s navigation isn’t good enough — I require constant connectivity.
No live connectivity it was. And fortunately, my friend provided detailed instructions on how to reach her house, because the normal exit was closed for construction. With my car navigation and a scribbled Post-It note of directions on the console, I found my way there and I found my way back home. I’d made my first phone-free road trip in years and was on my way to greater freedom.