Learning to be present

I’ve been told that there was a time long ago when kids went to college without cell phones. They wrote on whiteboards attached to their doors, passed notes in class instead of texts and had crazy things called room phones. For three-and-a-half years I’ve wondered what that world would be like. So, over dead week I decided to do the unthinkable and go phoneless for February.

I have always been reluctant to participate in fads. I never bought a Beanie Baby, Furby or a pack of Pokemon cards. I didn’t get Facebook until senior year of high school, and I hope to never get a smart phone. I was late in the cell phone game as well. I got my first cell phone when I was 16 and didn’t get a texting plan until senior year.

Since coming to college, however, my phone usage grew to the point of addiction. I woke up to a phone alarm. I planned meals through calls and texts. I would even fake trips to the bathroom to get out of the dead zone that is ’82 Grill. I’ve lost my ID card eight times and misplace my wallet monthly but have never lost my cell phone for the simple reason that it was a part of me. Without it, I felt incomplete.

Over the past year I began to resent my dependence on my phone. I hated when people would interrupt conversations to send texts, but I found myself doing exactly that. It didn’t matter if I was talking to a professor, a friend in need or a romantic interest, I would feel my phone vibrate and my mind would wander to the text.

Despite my intense desire to rid myself of this insanity, I had serious doubts about my ability to survive college if I left my phone in my room for a month. How would I find people to eat with? How would I meet up with my friends on weekend nights? How would I flirt with girls of interest?

The first few phoneless days were reminiscent of an addict going through withdrawal – but maybe without the shaking and cold sweats. I could hardly focus on anything and would literally run up the stairs of my apartment, anxious to see what messages I had received. When I told people about phoneless February, most people looked at me like I was crazy and were convinced that I was committing social suicide – I was worried they might be right.

There was no magic moment in the month when I embraced the freedom that not carrying a cell phone brought me, but over time it became easier to leave my room without my phone. I stopped rushing back to my room and just started to let go. I showed up at Paresky for lunch with no plans and sat down with people I saw there. I went to parties and didn’t worry about where I was going next. I had conversations without thinking about the ones I wasn’t having. I stopped by friends’ rooms unannounced.

The logistical problems still existed. I can’t pretend that cell phones don’t make life simpler. Contrary to my initial fears, however, I did not have trouble seeing people, I was not left out of adventures, I did not eat any meals alone and I ended up at the same parties with friends on weekend nights.

College life is fast-paced. We are always connected and on the run. The cell phone facilitates that lifestyle, but it comes with a cost. Before February, I was afraid to fully live in the present. My phone was a constant reminder of other things I could be doing. Whether I was at a meal, in class or on a walk with a friend, my phone would prevent me from fully committing myself to the moment. I became afraid to be alone to the point where I would rarely walk anywhere, even from Sawyer to Paresky, without texting or calling someone.

Today I left my room at 9 a.m. and didn’t get home until close to 6 p.m. I’ve stopped worrying about what I’m missing and started enjoying what I’m doing. I can make plans for the things that I really want to do when I’m in my room and then embrace whatever adventures come up after that without the fear that I could be doing something better. Cell phones offer great practical advantages, but phoneless February allowed me to appreciate the costs as well. Call me crazy, but every time I see someone disrupt a conversation by pulling out a phone or spend a beautiful walk between classes texting, I am thankful that I overcame my phone addiction. While I may pass on mobile-less March, I urge you to follow me with “Wireless Wednesday” and experience the “craziness” that is college without cell phones.

 

Nick Fogel ’12 is an political economy major from Williamstown, Mass. He lives on Hoxsey Street.