1990s summer without a phone

A week has gone by since I decided to exist without an iPhone. One morning it bounced off my garden chair and crashed into the cement floor. I was annoyed; my screen cracked for the second time, only now it didn’t turn on— the screen was a stubborn black. I didn’t rush to fix it, instead I hid it in my drawer, and pretended it never was.


The iPhone is the object that goes “ding ding,” and even when it doesn’t, you’re anxious, so you find yourself checking this handheld device constantly, only to wonder where time went. Sometimes I go in to check the time, and suddenly I’m deep in searches, articles half read, long-winded text messages, and the big book I’ve been trying to read on the train, is still on the same page.

I’ve had the same iPhone for about 4 years despite newer versions. I don’t see a reason to update unless it it stops working completely, and even then there’s a good chance the Apple kingdom and their blue workers can fix it.

There are intervals when I don’t bother with my phone, and seriously try to focus on making my seconds count. I take long walks, get lost, go to a park, or read a book, and if I’m on the train without anything to read, the phone option is irrelevant. Here and there I slip back into zombie mode. I’m not alone, I look around and everyone is using some sort of device. It use to be that there was a mix on the train: people reading books, some with their phones, others with newspapers, and some staring into nothing. Now it’s mostly eyes to phone screen. It’s commonplace to see people texting while walking or during the middle of a conversation, and the dreadful selfie with a stick is spreading.

This is the kind of stuff you see when you look up from your cellphone.
This is the kind of stuff you see when you look up from your cellphone.

There’s always an itch to open your phone. How to get from point A to B ? I start google maps and find the dot. The place may not be far, and what’s the worst that could happen, I find my own way? If I’m searching for restaurants, bars or concert venues, I think, which one is the closest and has the best reviews. Phones have a way of making life easy, by giving you the answer. Despite the many options granted by smartphones, the choice is harder to make than if left on your own. If you’re in business of looking for the “perfect place,” there’s no end— it’s a paradox of choice, and that goes for everything else on your phone. Even if you’re not using your phone, you’re busy thinking if you should answer that text or email, or how you should answer, which ultimately alters your experiences. If you want to challenge yourself by spending less time on your phone, WNYC’s Note to Self has a new project, Bored and Brilliant which helps people find creative ways to resist the phone-temptation.

It so happens those moments of staring into nothing turns to thoughts and stories— boredom can lead to imagination and memory. The stories you tell yourself about other people and the world. If your head is lost in the digital rabbit hole, you’re bound to miss it.

Image: Cynthia Via
Image: Cynthia Via

Getting rid of your shiny phone, doesn’t sound realistic. Most people need it for keeping track of their friends, news, work emails, social media sites, music and countless of other things. My smartphone allows me to take photos, keep notes, and make quick searches. One valuable app I use frequently is Merlin. Honestly I can replace these things with a camera, notepad, newspaper and a bird book. Though not the most convenient, it keeps one sane.

Mainly my phone let’s me remain connected to people I care about. Since no one calls anymore(there are a few exceptions), text messages are the way of communicating, and also chatting through social media. I figure, if I need to talk to someone there’s always a way. For the most part I’ve been checking Facebook and twitter when I’m home. The libraries are still out there for quick searches (you can laugh). If all else fails going the cheap, basic phone-route is not so bad. Of course the dead zone option is still available, or no? A land line. It’s starting to feel like the 1990s in this heat.

Can't a girl sulk in peace? Next to a pink phone furry peluches.*
Can’t a girl sulk in peace? Preferably next to a pink phone and furry peluches.*

How I felt without a phone? I felt free, going outside without a device permanently attached to me. There was space to be bored, to be creative with my thoughts, to wander with a spacious mind. I didn’t have the false perception of connectivity. I was alone. And there was no smartphone to tell me otherwise. At times I caught myself wanting to check my iPhone when I knew it was broken.  After a while the gnawing feeling to check my phone faded.

As an adult, I find iPhones addictive and stressful. After having a week off, I’m thinking I can extend it to a month, and see where it goes. But the reality of my work days are kicking in, so I may lessen my phone usage overall by leaving it at home or allowing myself only necessary views, possibly at the day’s beginning and end. Going without an iPhone even for a week has given me control, allowing me to take a conscious approach to using my cellphone. In the long run I want to keep it as a camera, or sell it. As for the time, I have a wind up watch, and a journal to keep notes.

*Peluches: (rough translation) plush toys


Sunday Afternoon in the West Village

“Like the creatures of the forest and the sea, I love to lose myself for a while.”
 —Friedrich Nietzsche

Some Sundays past we received unlikely spring weather in New York City. It was suddenly 50 degrees, and people were driving fast, birds were chipper, and the sky was welcoming. Sunday is my day to relax, do minor errands, write, meditate or run. I think of this day as sacred, although I don’t always follow that thought. I often find myself writing airy, peaceful poems about Sunday.

I wanted to wander around, now that the weather is warming up. I’ve been cooped up, and I don’t mean just in my house, but also mentally, hardly exploring my surroundings, relying on my cellphone. Though I carry a book on the train, I find myself getting distracted by text messages, online articles, or looking at Google maps for no reason. I think back to my younger days when had no phone or carried a simple one for phone calls. I was free to roam, to think, and find solutions.

I headed to the West Village for the French Cinema Festival at the IFC. I took a book, and my laptop to write after the movie was done.  By the time I got to the train, my cellphone died; it had slipped my mind to charge it, and maybe for good reason. At first I was bummed, then I felt silly for thinking I should miss my phone. At least now I could fully observe people on the train or read uninterrupted.

Once I got to the theater, I saw a line outside. Surely this meant it was sold out. And it was so. The lady in the booth said the next showing would be at 6:30 pm. It was only 3 pm. I felt no inspiration to watch the next movie. I came for the movie titled, La French, a detective story and a prelude to the American film, The French Connection. If that was unavailable, I’d find my own mystery. I kept walking.

I walked to the side streets looking for a quiet place to drink coffee and write. People were spilling out of restaurants, laughing with friends or holding hands with their romantic other. Sometimes a family of tourists walked in duck formation. I was alone with my thoughts. It suddenly dawned on me: it was brunch hour. The last of the brunchers were leaving with full stomachs and cured hangovers. I wanted to avoid crowded streets and fall into empty street pockets. I had not ventured around here in years, especially not in the daytime. People were wearing leather jackets, sunglasses, running in shorts, and smiling. Their happiness was contagious. We were all cooped up like chickens, and at the first light of spring we flocked to the streets.

In a way I was a tourist myself, discovering the West Village through new eyes. I used to visit my favorite Manhattan neighborhoods, discovering historic streets, and finding new things to do. Now I was mostly in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. The West Village was always special to me. Its jazzy bars, old-school bodegas, cobblestones, cute street names such as Cornelia, Charles, and Jane Street, made everything small— a sort of hobbit town. Poets and writers once called this place home, including Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, E.E. Cummings, John Cheever, Jack Kerouac, and Mark Twain, among others. This time around many sights were new and slightly out-of-place, with a few exceptions. Exceptions that still make this an NYC neighborhood.

I took notes of some old neighborhood spots as possible stops in the future. I continued walking,  greeting the city without a phone in hand, searching for a place and recalling memories.  Brunch ruled, and I couldn’t find a coffee shop for me; most of them were crowded and noisy. Did everyone just abandon Sunday for brunch? I walked by a possible cafe, and looked beyond the clear glass. A group of friends were pointing accusing fingers at each other. They appeared to be on the defensive. I avoided the next place called prodigy coffee. This whole side was starting to creep on my skin, so I walked quickly passed the aviator-walking-girls, shopping galore, and pricey soap shops. I ventured to Greenwich St. only to get lost.

From there, it got quieter.  The day was progressing. I assumed people had fled before the wind started.  The streets came and went, the faces trailed behind, and cars fled with no destination.  I was ready to give up searching for a coffee shop, and settle for whatever I found in the next minute. How long had I been walking? I’m not sure how many turns I took, before I realized I was on Hudson Street. Across the street I saw a tiny place with low lights, on the shabbier side, covered by a faded, red veranda. Inside were small chairs and tables, and a couple of people. I missed the name altogether and went in.

I  was a thirsty woman, asking for a cappuccino and a croissant with butter. The guy attending was nice and quietly courteous. I sat down in the back and started to write. I took notice of my surroundings, and suddenly I felt happy. The music was wispy, something french was playing, and maybe I heard Bjork. People were quietly working away on their laptops and reading books. A guy next to me ate alone. As I worked away, I noticed the guy near me leave. A new one took his place sometime later. This one was rummaging through a few books and jotting notes on a journal. The barista brought me my cappuccino and croissant.

Behind me I could hear the lady and the boy who came in after me. She was setting up for coffee and food, and the boy in a mousy voice, asked questions about the things his mind found curious. “When I get older, do I have to work?” —”Can I work anywhere?” He said. The barista brought their order.  The lady told the boy, “say thank you,” so the boy, though reluctantly, pranced over to the front, and said —”Thank you.” Sometime later the little boy asked the barista, “Do you need help?”  To which he smiled and replied —”No it’s ok.”

Later, a man took their place and typed diligently for the rest of the time. How long had I been sitting here with my cappuccino yet unfinished? I did not mind the noises. I accepted them and made them part of my afternoon. A few more people came in and sat by the front. Somehow the springy, soft music, the off-white walls, the curtains and the dimming light outside, kept everything inside secluded.

All those turns I took, led me here. I had to backtrack once or twice when I went too far uptown or west. Sometimes I saw the same streets. Was I walking in circles? The beautiful part was that I  led myself here. I took in the sights and sounds, even if some of them were not to my liking but they were still part of my walk, and made the ending that much richer. I forgot how relaxing it was to walk and walk with no clear destination, just a curious mind.

Recently my thoughts have been running wild. Walking allows me to  slow down to a dreamy pace. After a while hardly did thoughts come rushing, instead they passed, just as people left me to settle to the silence of the day. Walking is meditation: the ongoing streets, wrong turns, warm glances, right turns, surprises, and colorful sights. After the walk and sitting in a café for hours, I felt refreshed, light with the quickness of my feet, as I walked through the night to get home. I need more long walks, hours of writing in quiet places and the company of strange faces. I want new days of my own with minimal planning where I am free to discover the present.