March 12, 2019

The Lessons I learned when a Pickpocket Stole my Phone.


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On a Wednesday morning in late January, on a jam-packed subway train in Mexico City, a pickpocket stole my phone.

Frida Kahlo is one of my six-year-old daughter’s idols. As we were making our way to Frida’s blue house-turned-museum in Coyoacan, I realized my phone was no longer in my purse.

Yes, I was upset but only briefly. I have gotten somewhat accustomed to losing devices, thanks to having had my MacBook stolen from my house several years ago—and that one time I fell into the lake with all my market bags and phone.

This time around, I let go of the loss of the phone pretty quickly. Soon, I began to feel nothing short of liberated!

We were at the very end of our three-month trip to North and South America, when my phone was robbed. The next day, we arrived back home in Guatemala. My husband still had his smartphone and kindly shared it with me, so I still had limited access to the wonders of Spotify, Whatsapp, and other “essential” apps. However, I also appreciated not having a phone with me 24/7.

Soon, I found myself walking around out in the world with no phone—just imagine. And, sometimes, no laptop either. I was completely unable to be reached, or to connect with anyone virtually.

I was suddenly limited to actually speaking to people I encountered on the road, maybe even making eye contact. I love how here, in rural Guatemala where I live, almost everyone greets you with a warm hola or buenas tardes. It’s kind of amazing.

It’s really unfathomable how much our lives have been altered by smartphones.

Scary, too.

Free from the urge to mindlessly check messages or scroll through social media feeds, I became more mindful of how everyone else was doing it—all the time.

For me, this was no longer an option. Instead, I learned a great lesson:

Phones are not necessary to our survival. Living without them, or at least using them significantly less, is better for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Once you get used to it, it’s fun to pretend like it’s 1993, and read actual books. Or sit and gaze at the clouds drifting lazily across the sky, interjecting more simple meditative moments into the day.

All those times when you pull out your phone for no real reason? Waiting rooms, idle moments of boredom, after finishing a class, or ending a shift at work… Imagine that you can no longer default to this common activity. This helps bring us into the present and release our grip on planning for the unknown future. It releases us from feeling the pseudo-urgent need to act on our every impulse to pick up the phone and send a message, or reread one, or Google how to make natural dish soap, or whatever.

Yes, there were moments when this blissful disconnection from modern technology led to slight inconveniences. For example, going to a friend’s house only to find she was not home after all. She’d sent a message, but because I was no longer attached to the phone, I hadn’t seen it. Also, I needed to carry a regular old flashlight if going out walking at night.

Otherwise, it was a blessing, this phone-free lifestyle.

I waited a little over a month before I bought myself a new one. I intend to use it less, to leave it behind more, to take advantage of do-not-disturb mode, to not let myself spend too many minutes staring at the screen every day, and to not check it every hour—just because.

This is nearly impossible though. As we all know, these things are quite handy and also super addictive.

I’ve found the only way to use a smartphone as a tool rather than a toy is to disconnect from it more often. Not just on silent mode but completely turned all the way off.

Out of sight, out of reach, out of mind.

What do you think—would you, could you, should you live without a phone within reach at all times?


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