Last Sunday was one of those gorgeous fall days in New York City that makes you forget all the reasons this city drives you nuts and fall in love with it all over again. So, I left my phone on the kitchen counter, and nine-year-old Anton and I took off on a bike ride. We bumped over cobblestone streets and passed young couples playing cards on picnic blankets and drank lemonade on a park bench looking over the water.
But a weird thing kept happening.
Now and again, my hand would absentmindedly reach into my bag and fumble for my phone. Since my phone was at home and nothing was there, I started noticing these periodic grabs. How often do I pull out this thing? I wondered with a forehead slap. And how different would this bike ride be if I kept getting distracted?
My navigator tying his shoe (taken by my friend as we were chatting).
The experience reminded me of a recent NYTimes interview with cartoonist Lynda Barry, in which she shared this great anecdote:
“I have a friend who’s a writer. No matter what…he’s on his phone. We were sitting out in a parking lot, and there was a guy who came out who was in this full orc costume with a shield. I thought, I’m not going to say anything. Let’s see if my friend looks up. The guy passed right by him and — it was outside a hotel — tried to get through a revolving door. There’s all this bump ba bump ba bump, and if my friend would have looked up, he would have seen an orc go by! But he never looked up! Then later I told him, and he’s like, ‘That didn’t happen!’ It totally did happen! So something that closes you off to the world that you’re in — I mean, I could be on TikTok all night long. I keep deleting that app because I love it so much. But something that takes you out of your environment, you pay a high price. You miss the orc.”
To be honest, I also love my trusty phone, and for good reason: the funny comedians, the texts with friends, the snapshots of my kids. And many smart people work full time to make phones addictive and compelling, so we shouldn’t feel bad! But this fall, as much as possible, I’m inspired to turn it off and soak up the world. I’ll read poetry and books (this one looks great). I’ll admire my children puttering around. I’ll trace the freckles on my thigh that Alex says look like the Big Dipper. And maybe, I don’t know… stare into space?
That afternoon, on the park bench, I looked around: Anton’s blonde hair ruffled in the wind. A belly-forward toddler watched her mom blow bubbles. Two guys rode by on their bikes, one without using his hands!
Because being present in the world is just nice, don’t you think? “I do get a deep pleasure from looking,” says artist David Hockney. “I mean, I can look at a little puddle on a road in Yorkshire and just have the rain falling on it and think it’s marvelous.”
Would you ever turn off your phone more this fall? Are you curious to notice what happens? Let’s see the orcs!