An Accidental Lesson in Being Unplugged

Bahia Honda

So here's the truth.

Two weeks ago, I fell onto my ass in the shallow waters of a desolate, gorgeous beach in the middle Keys. Wrote a bit about it here. But the story went a little deeper. When I fell, I fell hard. Maybe because I was off balance, slipping on the algae covered sand, maybe because I was holding both a phone and a digital camera. It hurt when I landed, and I still have the bruises and cuts. Despite the sudden jarring nature of said fall, I still laughed at myself because I am so painfully ungracefully and because I'd been put in my place by a universe that said:

"Oh yeah, hot shot? Taking photos to scout and to Tweet? No, no, no, you don't get to tell all these stories at once. So I'm gonna shut you down, girl. Let's shush it up for a bit so you can actually SEE instead of always trying to chronicle everything, real-time, ok?"

Seriously, that's what I think the universe was not so subtly whispering. And if you're going to be sore and phoneless, then is there a better place than the Florida Keys? No, no there is not.

But I have not been incommunicado, without my cellular lifeline, for years. So when I hobbled back to the car and down the long highway, I kept reaching for the phone. Habit, tic, daily mechanism. But there was no power, not after immersing the lifeline in a bag of rice and dragging it from one place to the next. I was alone. Really alone.

Here's the thing: I dig traveling by myself. Used to it because of my work. Don't understand why people feel weird dining (or doing anything) alone. After all, I'm pretty good company. But I've never felt completely alone because of the phone. Hit refresh and see the Twitter stream, the emails, the Facebook messages, and when I'm lucky a thoughtful text from family and friends. But with that removed ... it was different.

I was truly alone. No need to send micro-updates about what I was experiencing ("but I want to share because I'm a storyteller!") Nope, none of that. So instead of the pictures and the instant status updates, I was just taking it in. Standing on a boat, looking out across miles of green water; paddling through mangroves spotting tiny fish; eating a dozen oysters and just ... being.

Was it great? Yeah, it was.

It took a minute to stop reaching for the phone. The couple of nights I was without I changed into my bathing suit and went swimming in the moonlight. I couldn't reach for the phone to write about it. So I wrote about it in the place that I used to, before all this technology. The place that remains when the technology fails. And I swam.

I thought about the last time I was in The Keys. I was 13. And still, so much of the landscape looked the same, the landscape except for me. Back then there weren't cell phones. We had AAA TripTiks, bona fide maps, and pay phones, and credit cards to help us make calls from hotels. Communication on a trip seemed like a luxury, and it was. We wrote letters. But then all that changed.

No longer was I the girl, homesick, calling from a wooden phone booth to relay stories of the day, trying to fight back tears. No longer were there payphones on every corner. There were cell phones. Except for mine, dead. 

Were there challenges? Yes. I do not like being out of reach from my family. Particularly as a mom, I feel a responsibility that life isn't all about me and midnight swims. There are people who depend on me to be reached. Until I can't be. But, guess what? Nothing happened. Everything happened. It was good.

Interested in unplugging voluntarily? Check out the Sabbath Manifesto and Unplug & Reconnect for tips on taking a break from technology -- even just for a day. Tried it yourself and seen results? Would love to hear from you.