Maybe it’s just me, but in addition to moments of deep connection with other people, I think some of the happiest moments in life are those (increasingly rare) moments of solitary quiet. Or maybe not happiest. Maybe most authentic. Or most peaceful. Moments that ground you to a place and a time—to your reality. Think of those moments during which you’re alone with your thoughts, uninterrupted by TV or conversation—or the incessant alerts on your iPhone. It’s that last that has really started to kill off these moments for most of us. And I’d argue that these moments are crucial for. . . for. . .our humanity?
I think we don’t notice what we’re losing most of the time. Because we’re gaining so much. I can see what old friends from high school are up to and what their kids look like. I can get constant updates on the craziness that is the 2018 news cycle. I can keep an eye out for inexpensive desks on Craigslist or free ones on my local Buy Nothing group. I can get directions to any place at any time when I’m out and about. Who needs to plan or look at a map any more?
But then last week, I had one of those rare, old-fashioned moments that made me remember what we’re missing more and more. The price we pay for all of this convenience. I recently pulled an old dusty paperback of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden off our bookshelves. (Which, my god, how did I get through nearly four decades before reading Steinbeck? He’s so, so good!) This has turned out to be such an enjoyable read that I don’t want to just save it for bedtime reading, so last week I went up and read on my bed after putting my son to bed. I can see the foothills of the Cascades from my bed, and I sat there, utterly immersed in this story, looking up from time to time at the hills turning from pink to purple to dusty blue. I watched the mesmerizing blinking red light of a distant radio tower become brighter as the darkness thickened. I smelled the dusty old book in my hands. I felt so present and realized how rare that is these days.
Why does that matter? Well, for me at least, this feeling gives me a sense of space in my head. Clarity. Control. And I’d argue that in our overstuffed modern lives, space and clarity are things that many of us are searching for. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that feeling is worth having to look at a map again before I go somewhere new or perhaps consolidating my Facebook time to one hour on my computer at the end of the day. Am I the only one that feels sad when I walk through a crowded city or university campus and notice that about half of the people are staring down at their phones as they walk?
And you know, looking back, some of the most memorable moments in my life have been just those sorts of moments of profound “presentness.” And were I to explain them, you’d probably say, “So what?” But for me they were deeply meaningful, and I’ll never forget them. Take, for example, one of my earliest memories, when I watched the snow fall through our apartment window in Moscow. Night was falling and I was fascinated by how the snowflakes seemed to be clustered under the street lamps. I also remember many moments from the innumerable drives I took with my family through Midwestern plains and New England forests, watching as the landscape shifted and the lighting changed, marking my passage through time and space. I remember the early May day I spent sitting by a fireside in Vermont eating chocolate chip cookies during a getaway from my first job in New York. I remember watching the sun set from 30,000 feet while en route to my grandfather’s funeral from New York. I remember sitting in the living room of my new house this past summer, watching the light slowly fade and the lights blink on in the houses on the hills across the way, watching the planes silently make their descent to Seatac airport, as a cool evening breeze blew through the house.
So what, right? Wrong. So, so wrong! At least for my introverted brain, these moments are essential, and I will fight to protect them. For now, I do still have an iPhone. But I’m strongly considering getting rid of it. Flip phones are apparently all the rage among the hipster set. I’m not sure I can go back, but I’d really like to. I’ll keep you posted.