Last winter we went to Portugal for a month. We stayed in a lovely town outside of Lisbon and we found a Swedish school, where we sent August a couple days per week. Some days James and I took turns taking care of the boys so that the other could put in a few hours of work (I was working for a cool Swedish company called Whitelines at the time), and to make our communication that month easier, we bought Portuguese SIM cards to use in our phones.
This meant, of course, that not only could we keep in touch with each other, but we could keep in touch with the world. When we had down time in parks or on beaches, we’d pull out our phones and check Facebook, read the news, keep on top of email, etc. But now in Spain, as we’re only here for two weeks and we’re in a smaller town, we didn’t bother getting SIM cards or tanking up the international balance on our Swedish phones. Not only does that mean we have to plan better if we’re splitting up for a few hours, but also that we can’t idle away playground hours (and we’re putting in serious playground hours, people) staring at our devices.
And you know what? It’s wonderful.
I’m not going to denounce Facebook in particular or social media in general; I enjoy them, and I think they can be useful and engaging tools. But, that doesn’t change the fact that sitting on a bench and browsing Facebook means that one is decidedly not sitting on a bench. By which I mean that our devices tend to pull us out of where we are and plunk us down….well, I’m not really sure where.
Last year I was at a museum cafe, blessedly alone and ignoring my phone, and I scribbled this in a notebook (an actual paper notebook, friends! Not the Notes app on my phone, but an actual, physical notebook which required an actual, physical pen!): Oh, those strange hours in which one isn’t attended by one’s mobile device, a device which in its very being speaks of otherwhereness.
No, here in Spain, when I sit on a bench, I sit on a bench. I feel the sunlight pouring into me, the breeze sweeping across my skin; I watch my children’s smiles as they clamber up a difficult ladder, or hear them squeal as they chase each other across the playground, or cringe, preparing myself to run, as they try something difficult on a platform several feet above the ground. For these two weeks, I have been paying full attention to my children (and to the trees, the sun, the wind, the rocks, the waves).
The other night I came to a surprising conclusion: it is much easier, physically and psychologically, to pay full attention to my kids than it is to pay half-attention to them and half-attention to my email/social networks/news. It is also much more pleasurable. I didn’t come to Spain to check Facebook; I came to Spain to get sunlight and warmth, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on. Even though we haven’t been doing much except sitting on sunny benches while the children play, it has been a luxurious “not much,” and deeply satisfying. (We’ve also eaten a lot of ice cream and churros con chocolate). I have a sense that if we had data plans on our phones and were staying up-to-date with the world, we’d be feeling more bored and restless in these quiet moments.
(I do bring my phone along with me everywhere we go, in offline mode, so I can take pictures and use the map (I downloaded the area where we are so I can view it offline.) And we do turn on devices and computers and get to work in the evenings, when the kids are asleep, so we haven’t gone full Luddite.)
I’m curious: do you ever do a media/technology sabbath? Are there any circumstances in which you always leave your phone behind?
Photos by me.
I do want to offer an apology for not posting more frequently; I’d hoped to get in two posts per week while we’re here, but that obviously hasn’t happened. I should be back to normal posting schedule (3-4 times per week) beginning next Monday.