After nearly two years of social distancing and staying close to home, I’d forgotten about things like keeping my cell phone charged when going out and so I found myself leaving for an all day Friendsgiving event last month with a phone at 20%. Imagining that at some point we might end up at a bar where I’d need to show my digital vaccination card, I immediately put my phone on airplane mode. And as such, my phone made it through the night—or at least long enough to call my 2:00 AM Lyft home.
The next morning, I was thrilled to have a fully charged phone as I caught a train to go hiking upstate… only to realize I’d plugged my phone into the charger, but hadn’t plugged the charger into the outlet. Once again, I resorted to airplane mode (and my friends’ car chargers) to get me through a social day outside the apartment. Before anyone asks, yes I have a portable charger. No, it was not charged. It’s been a while since I left the house; I’m rusty!
Anyway, without realizing it, I adopted this habit of flipping my phone to airplane mode if I was going out with friends or going on a hot chocolate date. And if I needed to check the time, I would see my background photo and the time, not a series of notifications proclaiming missed calls or emails or text messages.
I’ve been trying to keep my phone on airplane mode more often. Rather than responding to every email or text immediately as they come in, I can be completely and wholly wherever I am. And when I am ready to engage with the digital world, I can turn off airplane mode, catch up with friends, and feel a lot better and more intentional about my conversations and correspondence.
I was talking with a friend recently about how overwhelming all the notifications and expectations can be. How we’ve become so used to being able to send a text and get a real time response. How when I respond to a text four hours after receiving it, I feel like I have to begin with a “sorry, I was doing xxx.”
What I want to say is more along the lines of, “sorry, this instant communication doesn’t always feel compatible with how I want to live. I place so much value in simplicity and feeling attached to a never ending scroll or text thread doesn’t really feel simple. I want to talk to you. And I’m grateful that I can call you or FaceTime you. But don’t feel like you have to answer. We’ll catch up when we catch up even if it means playing phone tag for 2 weeks. I’m grateful you’re only a text away, but I don’t want you to feel bad if you don’t have the energy to respond right away. I want my conversations with you to be intentional and if now’s not good, well maybe next week is better.”
I have a very close friend who, when either of us are particularly drained by something major in our personal lives and then get frustrated over something minor that ultimately does not matter, we remind each other that the latter is all just “noise.”
On days when my phone, or the world, or everything just feels like noise, I’ll go to airplane mode. I’ll get to it when I can. Not because I don’t want to talk. Not because I want to be antisocial. But because I long to be fully present and fully social and fully engaged with you.
I don’t want you to be a quick text I shoot off in the middle of the work day to make the notification go away. If our communication comes through a cell phone states away, the least I can do is promise my undivided attention went into the emoji selection.
So give airplane mode a try. Turn it on next time you’re at coffee with a friend or reading a good book at home or trying to focus on an exciting new project. Most of the time, whatever messages you receive while you’re in the sky can wait. And when you do get a chance to come back down, notice how it feels to engage with intention.
And if nothing else, at least notice how much longer your phone battery lasts.