Off the grid for 3 hours

I went three consecutive hours without personal electronics. So I’m enlightened now, or something.

I should admit that the deprivation was not a self-imposed ascetic exercise, but rather a government-imposed order. I had to pick up a new passport from the US embassy in Tel Aviv and personal electronics are prohibited in the US embassy in Tel Aviv. From where I live, Tel Aviv is a thirty minute train ride, and once in Tel Aviv, the embassy is another thirty minute jaunt from the train station. The errand would take two hours round trip, plus whatever time I spent at the embassy.

Now I’m not one of those people obsessed with their iPhone. Sometimes I don’t even have it on (like when it runs out of battery or after I drop it in the toilet) and sometimes I don’t even have it with me (like when I’m swimming under water). But to commute two hours without any devices seemed outrageous. It’s not exactly safe for a woman to be traipsing along urban streets without a phone. It’s like the embassy wants me to be murdered and deprived my First Amendment right to Instagram my final moments.

Besides, I really need my phone because I get so many important emails that I have to open and ignore.

Yes, it’s surreal to eschew devices for that long. And I know what you’re thinking—so surreal that it needs to be live Tweeted. But I couldn’t live Tweet it! I didn’t have a phone! Instead I recorded the experience by memory—not hard drive memory or Cloud memory, but brain memory—and I will try to recount it now:

7:14 am: I print a map on paper showing me how to get to from the train station to the embassy. The next train to Tel Aviv is at 7:30 and it’s a nine minute walk to the station, which I know from the 38923 times I’ve walked there before. I begin my journey.

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I’m almost there. What time is it? Ohmygod there’s no way to know! I have no phone and haven’t owned a watch with numbers that I can read in a decade. Based on the sun it must be some time between sunrise and high noon. Did I miss the train? Can I saunter or do I need to hustle?

I arrive at the train station at 7:23, nine minutes after I left my office.

Waiting for the train. I wonder who’s liked my latest Facebook status. Ohmygod there’s no way to know! I just stare at the ground until the train comes. There are some sparkles in the sidewalk. That’s nice, I guess, but I’d rather see how many people liked my status.

The train arrives. As usual in Israel, it’s a clusterfuck of people trying to get on before letting people get off. Ha! An Orthodox couple is trying to get on with eight kids, a two-seat stroller, and a bundle of balloons! It’s my duty to Instagram this scene, but I cannot.

On the train I manage to get a seat. It’s the greatest miracle to ever happen in the Holy Land. I know that I can’t work on my computer because I wasn’t allowed to bring my computer. I know that I can’t read on my Kindle because I wasn’t allowed to bring my Kindle. I was prepared for this. I’m just going to relax and listen to some music as I gaze reflectively out the window.

Shit, I don’t have my iPhone or even my hot pink iPod nano from 2007. I guess I’ll just gaze reflectively out the window without music. Ah, the meditative landscape between Rehovot and Tel Aviv. Strip mall. Vacant lot. Pile of dirt. Rushing before my eyes, stirring reflections and introspection.

I think, “Who needs iPods? There is a music to life itself.” Mostly the music coming from the headphones of the woman sitting next to me. But in addition to her One Republic song I hear the shush of the speeding train; the open mouth chewing of the man across from me; the wails of the eight children in that Orthodox family. It’s beautiful in a way, in a way that makes me miss my iPod and noise-canceling headphones.

I think that thought was funny and that I should Tweet it. Shit, never mind. And that Tweet—like so many in the 2.5 hours to come—dissolved into the ether like a child’s whisper on a forgotten island, before that island got wifi.

The train arrives in Tel Aviv. The station is called Hahagana. I chuckle because my iPhone autocorrects Hahagana to hahahaha. Aw iPhone, you were always doing things like that. I miss you.

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I venture out of the train station, guided only by my instinct and my paper map. I feel like a turn of the century explorer! I mean, turn of the 20th to 21st century because the map is printed from Google maps rather than streaming live on my phone.

I know the embassy is toward the sea, so I set off seaward with a determined stride that deserves some musical accompaniment. If I had my iPod I’d put on Robyn, “Dancing on my Own” (because that’s the only song I listen to since my last breakup). Instead I have to listen to the song that is stuck in my head, which is the theme from Jurassic Park. Rather than maintaining my determined stride, I start to amble and contemplate the implications of Jurassic Park.

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. That’s the take home message of Jurassic Park. Well that, and the fact that we’d be fucked if raptors existed. Could we have outdoor sporting events? No way, raptors would get you. Could we have picnics or allow children to walk to grade school? Nope, not with raptors. All our buildings would need steel grates over the windows and doors. Electric fences everywhere. I wonder if they could climb trees. I bet they could swim.

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“Do do do do do, do do do do do, do do do do dooo dooo doooo doooo” [that’s my written interpretation of the Jurassic Park theme, but you know what I mean]

20 minutes later? 40 minutes later? I don’t know because I have no way of keeping time, but the point is, many minutes later I arrive at the embassy.

The embassy is a bad place. Everyone is distressed and thinks that their distress is more urgent than your distress. They feel entitled to cut you in line and they are aghast when you cut them in line. They have no devices to keep them cool and entertained during the indefinitely long wait. The only thing to watch is other people looking anxious. The only thing to think about is your own anxiety over getting a new passport.

I cut some people in line and take a number—247 and we’re on 184. I take a seat. I stare at the number sign. I look at my number. I watch the people at the various service windows. I decide that if raptors existed we’d have peace among humans because we’d be too busy fighting raptors to fight each other. Do do do do do, do do do do do… Eventually I get my passport without undo hassle and travel one hour home, relieved but still deviceless.

10:23 am I’m back in my office. I immediately check gmail/Twitter/Facebook and run a general Google search on my name. Six people liked my last fb post, Jo Clarkson who sat next to me in AP European History is engaged, and Huffington Post tweeted an article about habits for healthier skin.

Thank god I’m back on the grid!

I went three hours without devices and this is what I learned: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

What? That’s just a line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Okay, never mind. I already knew that.  I didn’t learn anything.

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3 responses to “Off the grid for 3 hours

  1. I read this wile sitting in a class full of high school seniors who can’t go three minutes without their phones. I laughed out loud and almost made you a part of my lesson!

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