Yesterday morning I did an unusual thing. When I woke up and got out of bed, I didn’t pick up my phone. Instead, I dug around in my nightstand and found a watch that I bought myself a few years ago during a trip to San Francisco. The watch caught my eye at MOMA’s gift shop, with its narrow brown leather band that wrapped around the wrist twice, and its delicate rectangular analog face. I wore it for awhile, the tucked it into a bag in favor of a digital heart rate watch, and then I fell out of the watch habit since I always carry my phone, and my phone can always tell me what time it is, so why wear a watch?
Last weekend, Ryan and I spent the entire weekend playing outside in the snowy wilderness, all of it within cell range. Sunday night, exhausted and dirty from exertion, we left the ski hill and headed to North Seattle to do the world’s fastest quick change, and to pick up his grandma for a show. Connie is a firecracker, which appears to be the trend for women in Ryan’s family, and the time we spend with her is a delight. The three of us took turns telling stories during the car ride to and from the show, and all during dinner, and after we dropped Connie off at home, Ryan and I spent the car ride home talking about Connie’s storytelling. She has a memory like a steel trap, compared to mine, which memories slip through like a sieve. She can recall details of her life and experiences with more precision that I remember something I did two years ago.
I theorized that perhaps there is some formative age for developing our memory for storytelling — perhaps, when Connie was a kid, storytelling was the primary form of entertainment, and more of her experiences were experienced than witnessed on television. I remember things better when I experience them (although experience is no guarantee of memorability) — and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that we experience less when we’re tuned into televisions, or now, to other types of screens. I did away with television seven or more years ago, but over the years I’ve gradually replaced what used to be television time with screen time: laptops, iPad, e-readers and mobile devices. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I probably spend way more time in front of screens now, than I ever did when I owned a television.
When I walked into a Starbucks in my neighborhood earlier this week, there were nine other people sitting at tables scattered around the shop, or standing at the counter waiting for soy lattes and macchiatos. Seven of them were tapping away at their smartphones. The other two were having a lively conversation about hip hop, and taking turns hitting on the women in the shop, who barely noticed (or pretended to barely notice, their noses turned toward their cell phones).
I thought about my own habits — the frequency with which I flip open my phone to check the time, and wind up running through my own little “connectivity routine:” check my email, check Facebook, check Twitter, check my text messages, check IM, check my news reader. That “little” routine could take a minute, or it could take hours, depending on what catches my eye, or what I get sucked into (or distracted by).
So yesterday, I pulled out my old fashioned, analog watch, and put it on my wrist. I got up, turned on my phone only long enough to set an alarm for when I needed to head out for my bus (without doing my “connectivity routine”), then proceeded to sit down and write my first journal entry in a few weeks and made a delightful breakfast and cup of tea for myself. When my “bus” alarm went off at 9:30, I checked my email for any 911s, and finding none, I tucked my phone back into my pocket and walked to the bus.
I moved about my day, doing my meetings, having lunch — checking my wrist, to check the time, instead of my phone, without getting distracted. I did do some intentional screen time, to write a blog post, to respond to some must-do emails, and to nail down plans for in-person time with folks later this week, but I didn’t use my screens as a distraction as I moved through my day. I used them as a tool, only when needed, and then tucked them away.
And I had a really great, productive, creativity-filled day.
So this morning, I woke up and did the same thing. And I think I may make wearing a watch, and scheduling my connectivity “check-ins” for specific times of day — morning, after my journal entry is written; mid-day; mid-afternoon; and close to the end of the work day — and then not checking other than those times, to give myself more time to actually experience my world and do the things I need to rather than being distracted by the next, newest thing I need to add to my to do list.
Who are the storytellers in your life? How do you juggle the expectation of connectivity with your own need for distraction-free time? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!