You ever have that heart-stopping feeling of fright when you leave the house without your phone? What about that feeling of exposure when you are the dentist office and realize you don't have your favorite tablet to help you pass the time while catching up on episodes of Orange is the New Black? Isn't it amazing how quickly we've become attached to our devices? They've become more than an accessory, they've become part of our clothes. You wouldn't leave the house without clothes on would you?
In September, I attended the Mobile 2013 Experience in Arizona and was faced with quite a conundrum. My phone was about to die and we were heading into the networking reception part of the event. I didn't want to carry an iPad or laptop around with me, but didn't want to be disconnected. It dawned on me the irony that I was about to head into a networking event and felt the need the to carry my phone with me to stay connected. Much like Linus of Peanuts fame, my iPhone is my security blanket. I figured I had two options at that point: either stay in my room and communicate and connect digitally with folks or actually go into the event without my device.
I decided take the plunge and leave my room without my "clothes" on. Something amazing happened during my couple of hours of wandering around "digitally naked."
No one seemed to notice.
I didn't get any embarrassing looks from people at the event despite the noticeable nervous discomfort on my face. Not only was anyone aware of my digital nudity, but some other strange things started to happen while I skinny-dipped around the room:
The "uncomfortable pause" became really uncomfortable
We've become uncomfortable with the uncomfortable pause (pretty meta don't you think?). Louis CK had a brilliant rant on a recent Conan appearance about the very reason we can't do this even when we are ALONE. I realized how hard it was to stand there and look around a room without my blanket to save me. Now I can see where thumb-twiddling became all the rage in the 19th century! Only now we have thumb-texting to pass the time. After streaking through the room and kicking the invisible dirt on the carpet, I realized what I had to do next.
I had to talk to people
I consider myself a very social, extroverted person. That said, there's still something uncomfortable about going into a crowd of strangers and engaging in conversation. Luckily for me, while I was digitally naked, my social-media presence made it easier to make connections with people in 3-D. Even if I couldn't show a stranger the clever ecard or cat video from the web on my phone, I could tell them a story about it and laugh at my own inside jokes. While this was awkward at first, I harkened back to my pre-smartphone days to pull in some age-old tricks like eye contact and active listening to make it go smoother. And whenever that didn't work, I just verbalized "hashtag"* to get my geeky joke across. (*Timberlake, J & Fallon J, 2013)
I experienced "phantom vibration"
Crazy as it may sound, I actually felt my leg vibrate right where my phone would normally be in my pocket. The eerie part about it was that it felt exactly like the amount of pressure and length a "text vibration" would feel like. Imagine my embarrassment when I would reach down to my empty pocket quickly and discover there wasn't anything there. I called it a phantom vibration as it reminded me of the stories of people who had lost a limb yet still "felt" its existence. This happened more often than I would comfortably admit here, but let's just say I'm pretty sure people at this event saw me as some either a crazy person swatting invisible bugs off his leg or a pseudo-athlete with a reoccurring quadriceps cramp.
I felt exposed and liberated
There was something liberating about not having to check my phone every 12 seconds. It took some getting used to, don't get me wrong. At one point I thought I was having a panic attack, which when coupled with my phantom leg slapping probably didn't help with my approachability. That said, I almost felt as though reality got a little bit brighter when I didn't have that tiny screen staring back up at me every so often.
Colors seemed more vibrant.
Smells seemed more acute.
I had gone from panic attack to a euphoric state of being. I felt myself almost floating around the room.
The world didn't end
When I finally did return back to my room where my now fully-charged phone awaited, I was astonished to see that EVERYTHING was ok. I had told my family what I was doing before heading out of the room and quickly alerted them to my safe return to put their minds at ease. The district didn't suffer from any major outages or setbacks. Sure, I may have missed a couple of emails and tweets, but nothing very pressing. The world can survive without me being connected to it!
What does all this mean? Well, you might be saying to yourself, Carl is way too connected. You'd have a point there. I mean the very fact that I'm blogging about this is a testament to that need for digital clothing. However, this brief digital skinny dip taught me something else. That I can survive, albeit briefly, without that constant connection.
When I returned home after that pilgrimage to the desert of Arizona, I decided that being digitally naked meant being MORE connected with those around me physically. And when staring down at those three little cherubic faces at home, I realized that I'd much rather have them stare back up at me than that tiny screen.