Friday, March 8, 2013

Life without a phone

It’s been almost two months that I haven’t had a phone. But it's not entirely true. I have my iPhone and can pick up WiFi. It's unbelievable all the ways I can stay in contact with people without having to make a phone call. I can text on Whatsapp, I have email and I can Facebook. I can Skype if someone else has Skype (I haven't increased my credit to make outgoing calls but that's a different story). Everyone else has Internet so it’s no problem to communicate like this.

Also, the temptation to look at my phone when I'm at the bar or a party is gone. It's contagious, when people look at their phone, I want to as well. But I know if I take mine out I'll just be checking the time, information I don't need, and looking at the uselessness of my mini computer without internet. 

Yet then I find myself more present. I become aware if I'm getting bored. I feel the urge to look at my phone, to see if I can disconnect from the current situation and find a more interesting one. 

But since I can't, I have to find a new way to entertain myself. Without putting my head down and hiding in my phone, I start a new conversation, or listen in to someone else's, or stare off into space and sip my drink until something interesting happens.

If I can't text, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Four-square, Twitter or any of the other absurd modes of social networking and communication, I'm back to basics.

I've taken to going old school with meeting people. We arrange a place and a time to meet and it’s agreed upon. But the people who rely on their phones have stopped giving out the necessary information.

When I ask where someone lives, I first only get the cross streets. 

"But which apartment?"

"Oh yea, building 34."

"But which apartment?"

"Oh yea! 15D."

I idled by a coffee shop to soak up WiFi, Facebook messaging my friend, hoping she sees it because I'm in the area of her apartment but I have no idea which one. Last night, as everyone was walking into the bar, I awkwardly stood next to a table of guys eating hot dogs because I knew the exact spot I had to stand to get the best Internet connection from the restaurant and wanted to Whatsapp my friend.

The other night I was invited to dinner at an apartment and a neighborhood I've never been to. I tried to get as much information as possible before I left. I had the address; I knew which bus to take and when to get off. I knew that I would be able to walk in to the building and it would be "on the second floor, a little hallway to the right past the elevator." Sounded simple enough.

But we know these things never are.

I arrived and there were three apartment buildings all with the same number. They were recently built and not all the units were filled. Some floors had lights while others just had wires hanging from the fixtures. I walked into the first one and went up the first flight of stairs. To me this would be the second floor, but we're in Israel and this floor was marked "1." But my friend is American so maybe she meant second floor after the first flight of stairs. There was an elevator but there was no hallway, just a door to an apartment on the right. There was a hall light and I could hear people inside, maybe this was the dinner party?

But one more floor up there was a sign for "2." There was also an elevator and a small dark hallway to the left. The apartment door to the right was dark and quiet, did anyone even live there? I went back to "1" and knocked on the apartment door. 

"Mi ze?" 

I was interrupting. An older woman opened the door, clearly getting ready to sit down with her husband for a nice evening meal on a Tuesday night while watching the latest popular singing competition as background noise on the TV. This was not my dinner party. I apologized and backed away quickly.

I figured that was embarrassing, I might as well just try the door upstairs as well. When the man opened the door I thought he was a squatter. I could see a stand alone TV next to a mattress on the floor. His face was drawn and his beard was unkempt. I thought for sure I was just interrupting his shoot-up time. I also tried to apologize quickly and leave the situation as soon as possible. But he asked me who I was looking for and which apartment. When I looked closer I could see that he had just moved in, that was the lack of furniture. And his beard wasn’t unkempt; it was just full and a conscious style choice. He let me know that there were a couple of buildings with the same number and maybe I should try the one next door.

I walked outside and there were some young people on a balcony having a party. Was this my dinner party? I called out my friends name to see if she was up there. Nope. I walked into the building to see if the mystery directions would be fulfilled here. Again, the stairs were dusty with recent construction and there were no hallways. I walked up to a dark floor and stared out a window onto the street.

I wanted to cry. Why did I need to have a phone? I wanted it to be ok to go somewhere I’ve never been before and find my way without having to make a phone call.

What was my friend doing? Was she wondering where I was and that I was lost? Was she looking at her phone in helplessness because she couldn’t call me to see where I was? Or was she blissfully drinking wine, content in the knowledge that her directions were crystal clear and I would have no problem finding the place.

There was nothing I could do. I needed to call her. Embarrassment is short lived and I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I need to look foolish to accomplish my goals, it really doesn’t make a difference.

I walked outside and looked up to the balcony of the dinner party that was not mine.

“Excuse me, can I make a phone call?”

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