In the span of approximately 10 minutes last week, I text messaged, talked on the phone, Facetimed, Facebooked and emailed with Amber. I’m not sure why each point of communication was made and but am certain that most of it was relatively pointless and merely for a few giggles between friends separated by about a thousand miles. The zig zag of technology culiminated in a real, honest, authentic conversation on Facetime. That was the point. We wanted to talk about her new job. Success.
Upon returning to my desk, where I have both an iMac (work) and a MacBook (mine), bouncing in between the two, texting and talking on my iPhone, with two different Facebook pages open, three different emails downloading messages and an instant chat program almost always there in the background with probably four different services connected to it that my head started spinning and I wanted to go back to Africa.
Upon arriving in Tanzania, I remember looking down at my phone several times, wondering if someone had called or texted. It was an embarrassing 2-3 seconds later that I remembered that my phone was turned off and that I had no international service. What was more embarrassing is that this habit stuck with me for probably 36-48 hours. Even a week later, when we were on the side of the tallest mountain in Africa, miles from civilization and living out of backpacks, I sometimes looked at my phone, which was turned on occasionally to be used as a camera, to see if someone had called or if I should check my email. Oh, wait, that doesn’t work here. Duh.
When we were waiting, as a team, for one person to stop to get something out of his or her pack, no one checked Facebook. When there was an awkward silence, no one started texting with urgency as if the President had called on us to save the world. And when we were annoyed with the people around us, we didn’t excuse ourselves to make a phone call. Nope. Nada. Nothing.
We made small talk about the clouds. We learned about flowers. We asked questions. We told silly jokes. We explained stories. We listened. We were quiet. We over-shared on personal matters. We laughed a lot. We made up nick names. We were fully present.
We were forced to not talk to anyone else for an entire seven days. We were forced to look left and to look right, depending on the people smack dab in front of us with nowhere to run. And we were forced to deal with the awkwardness.
It was wonderful.
It was there on the mountain that I learned something that I wish I didn’t forget so often: to be present, to be bored and to look left and to look right for where my attention should be.
Holding on to that moment, that feeling, that experience is about as difficult as trying to catch sand. It’s like trying to rewind the clock to when we all ran up and down the block in the suburb of a big city that felt a little more like a small town as a child. But I’m going to try. It’s not that I’m better than anyone or “over” all this technology. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a “connector” and, by nature, love being networked. My hope is that all of these connections wouldn’t get in the way of the right here, right now.
So for all of those who have asked me what I learned, what I want to remember from this trip, what changed in me…this is a little piece of that. And maybe, just maybe, that’s part of the reason that I love being in the mountains and traveling internationally: I have no choice but to unplug.