My old coal-fired, steam-driven flip phone died the other day. This is the unit I got to replace the phone that a horse named Woody tried to eat, and drowned it in horse slobber.
Naturally I wanted another replacement since I hate missing good deals on vinyl siding and critical information on my vehicle’s extended warranty. After all, its important to stay connected.
So I paid a visit to the phone store. The walls were plastered with larger-than-life posters of smiling, handsome people staring wistfully at their smart phones as if the joy in life was pouring their souls through those tiny screens.
I was their first customer of the day, and while some guy was telling me about all the fancy new devices I could get that would enhance my life, all the other salespeople were staring at their phones with their thumbs dancing over the keyboards. I was the only person in the store who didn’t have something in his hand to stare at.
Outside the store window, traffic was moving, leaves were changing color, people were falling in love or dying, Russia was annexing parts of Ukraine, bears were gorging themselves before their long nap and Antarctica was melting like an ice cube in bourbon.
On those little screens in their hands, people were watching Tik-Tok videos or swiping right to find a hot date.
My thoughts, unchained to a plastic rectangle, wandered back to growing up on a ranch forty miles from town with no phone of any sort. If we wanted to make a simple phone call, the nearest telephone was an hour away if the road was good. If the road was bad, you just didn’t make a phone call.
Instead, you talked with the people around you or just silently went about doing the work. That required a different type of connectivity…something deeper and older. Something more reliable. There was no firewall between you and reality.
These days, someone out in rough country a long ways from town carries with them a smart phone that they can use to call for help if they break a leg. Their phone tells them where they are with a GPS that is accurate to a few feet.
Growing up on the ranch, I learned to memorize the terrain in order to know where I was. Familiarity with the creeks and mountains created a mental map that didn’t rely on technology. And that map never failed or lost service.
If I got bucked off and broke some bones, I couldn’t call for help. My only distress signal would be my horse showing up back at the barn with an empty saddle.
Living without technology in a state like Wyoming demands that you pay attention. Your eyes have to leave the palm of your hand and keep moving over the horizon and the ground in front of your horse. You have to read the sky and smell the wind to know what the weather will do.
And when you can do that, your heart is satisfied in a way that a weather app or GPS can’t replace. That is real connectivity born from the natural rhythm of your surroundings, from the stillness inside you that comes from silence.
You are freely giving your attention to the real world around you, rather than to influencers who assault your attention with electrons. There simply is no app for human peace or happiness.
That fancy li’l 5G gizmo in your hand can connect you with the digital world and all its distractions, but it can disconnect you the world all around you, the one in which you live.
But I digress. So, I get my new flipfone overnighted to me and almost pull my beard out trying to activate the sonofabitch. I take it back to the store and they can’t get it to work either. They end up ordering a new one.
Ned Ludd was right, technology sucks.