So it happens to the best of, or maybe it only happens to fools like me; coming to the end of a rather ill-advised Thursday night out, I find my iPhone gone for the count.
After my forlorn 3 AM cab ride home, I crawl into bed and pass out; and without its alarm function, I don’t get up the next morning until almost 11 AM! Between frantic messages to and from my mom and my hour-plus commute, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon by the time I finally stumble into my magazine internship.
I try to keep my mind off my predicament by focusing on my writing and editing, and soon enough it’s the end of our workday and time for one of my off-hour errands: to check out a buzz-worthy photography exhibition and write a review of it for our website.
While I usually scrawl my observations about what I see in the notes section of my phone, this time, I have to ask my boss to borrow a notebook, so I can record my thoughts on good old pen and paper.
You know, like they did in the dark ages.
I’m worried about how I’m even going to find the gallery now that I don’t have an app for that, but luckily, it’s only a block and a turn from the nearby 1 train. Fittingly, the exhibit I’m covering encompasses Stan Douglas’s photo series DCT, which examines the role of technology in image-making, and his Scenes from the Blackout, which features staged shots that portray a hypothetical scenario where New York City has lost all power.
Our iPhones are just one of many modern age comforts we take for granted, without ever thinking about how easily, with one bad storm or freak accident, the comfort could all disappear.
Though my process is more or less the same, I’m sure I look smarter and more official to the other gallery patrons than if I’d been using my usual method of thought-recording, when I would’ve come across as only another distracted millennial. I leave not long after 6, pretty early for a Friday night, and on a normal one I’d probably have spent the rest of my evening out and about.
Besides the fact that I’m pretty wiped out from yesterday’s escapade, I have no way of getting in touch with most of the friends that I would make plans with.
Even having fun somehow doesn’t seem as rewarding if I can’t get that selfie of it.
I’m admittedly more addicted to my Snapchat than most, but that only puts me at the more extreme end of a generational infatuation; if you go to a hip club, and don’t check in there on Facebook, did you even go there?
If you drink a cocktail and you don’t Instagram, did it even exist?
So, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, I keep my notebook out.
Feeling more than usual, the intellectual writer archetype with my newfound prop in hand, I decided that instead of hopping back on the 1, I'd stroll the 20+ blocks uptown to Grand Central, in search of inspiration. While I usually spend my city walks with my headphones in and eyes downcast, checking Snapchat and spinning Pokestops, this time, it’s only me and the NYC streets.
And the city is entirely different.
I notice things like the trendy clothing ad featuring an inspiringly curvy and tattooed model, and all the hip, punnily-named bars and coffee shops, and even make invigorating eye contact with a few cute guys When I pass a flower shop, I even, honest to god stop, to smell the roses!
But being more present isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Things take a darker turn when I spot a man with his unmentionables out in broad daylight, peeing in the street; when countless men seem to be looking me over lasciviously; when there is homeless person after homeless person, sad signs galore.
With my newly open, attentive eyes, I’m even approached by a “backpacker” from North Carolina claiming he’d missed his ride that morning and just needed another 7 dollars for a bus ticket. If I’d had the cash on hand, maybe I would have believed him and handed it over, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way for a sketchy stranger, no matter how convincing his story.
When I finally reach Grand Central, it’s easy enough to find my train back to Bronxville even without the Traintime app I’m used to using to keep a tab on things, but how was I going to pass my ride home without my dependable candy crush? I could open up my computer, or peruse the book I’d brought with me, but I’m so thrown off kilter by the loss of my little electric BFF that all I end up doing is staring out the window, lost in thought.
When I wake up the next morning, it’s too good news; someone had found my phone! But first, I had to find them. When I get off at the nearest Metronorth station to our agreed upon meeting place, it’s cold out, and my legs and back are still aching from the previous day's jaunt, but there were no Ubers to be had for me.
It was either finding a cab; easier said than done along the speedy highway, or toughing out the trek. I had a vague idea of where I was going, and anyone I ask for directions tells me I’m on the right track, but it’s still hard to stay motivated without google maps counting down the minutes till I reach my destination; but like my pre-iPhone ancestors before me, I had no choice but to keep walking in blind faith.
Once I arrive at the Bronx Starbucks at which I was to meet my good Samaritan, I chip away at some of my homework, this time without my usual periodic breaks for every new notification but with pure, unadulterated focus.
Soon enough my guardian angel arrives, phone in hand. But before I even spin the coffee shop Pokestop, the first thing I do is pore over all my missed messages; and think about all the ones I’d missed out on sending.
Maybe that the character of our communication is different when it’s less instantaneous is worth thinking about.
Maybe we’d talk less to each other if we couldn’t send every message the second we wanted to, but maybe what we did say would be more meaningful, and maybe we’d also say less that we’d end up regretting, especially on nights as vodka-fueled as the one that got me into this mess.
I can’t imagine how much different it was when letters were the only method at our disposal for staying in touch with loved ones we couldn’t see on a daily basis. How many times do we send a text to someone across the country without ever thinking about how blessed we are to be able to?
So while I’d never surrender my beloved silvery companion for good, I will make an effort to relegate it to a less central place in my life and my psyche. To pay more attention to what I’m doing and to the world around me, even when that outward glance can sometimes be an unsettling one; and to appreciate experiences for their own sake instead of just for the likes.
To, try, at least to think before I text, and to, yes, stop and smell the roses. And even when I do decide that the best use of my time and brain cells is mindlessly crushing some candy, I’ll try to appreciate being able to. Cliché as it is, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.