We are addicted to our phones, every one knows. Companies literally design platforms to addict us. Take a shot of instagram in the morning with your coffee. It’s so, so easy to get sucked into one’s phone. So last night when my phone broke, I was actually excited. There was no frustration or anxiety. Even though I would be cut off from much of the world, I was genuinely happy and excited to see what life would be like without a phone. It’s been about nine years that I have kept a phone in my pocket all day, every day. I haven’t experienced life independent of my phone in NINE years! How nuts is that?
Phones have started to control us over the last years. They were designed to be tools and yet today we are the tools and they are the controllers. People are afraid to miss calls and texts. People seem to think that without their phones, they miss out on their lives. How preposterous! When it comes down to it, we miss way more of our lives when on our phones than when off of them. When I don’t have my phone I am able to truly engage with my life and live in the present. Without a phone the only option is to simply be. It’s impossible to escape to a virtual world and we are forced to live in the real world (bummer, right? *sarcasm*).
Today I was in a village near Bolgatanga checking in on a group of weavers. I was sitting on a rock listening to the birds and watching the villagers work. A giant, densely-leaved mango tree extended over the clearing where the weavers worked. I noticed some children staring at me from across the clearing. I met them a few days before and had played a simple game of catch with them. I knew that they wanted to play. After a few shared smiles they walked over to me and climbed up on the rock. I chose to stay quiet and simply watch them for a bit. Eventually they started playing on their own. They crawled around the rock and eventually started jumping off onto the ground, giggling, and then running back up to do it again. It was such a joy to watch children in their innocence. There is a pure joy that we as adults tend to strip from our lives, thinking that it’s immature or impossible to feel. I firmly disagree with this assessment and promote more pure and authentic joy.
After they tired of this game they brought out a pencil that had been sharpened down to a small, dual-pointed pencil like those from my early childhood. They looked at it and then handed it to me. I started to write my name on the rock and immediately they all crowded around me. They were fascinated by the simplest of actions. Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and yet for these children might never be. I could tell how starved these kids were for intellectual growth. Many of the adults in the village can’t read or write. Trying to imagine what it would be like to live without reading and writing is impossible for me. The inequality of the situation hit me and all I wanted was to help these children and the countless others in the world learn. Without basic skills in reading and writing, 99% of the opportunities in the world will forever be closed to these kids.
After I wrote as much as I could with the tiny pencil I decided to play with it. I put the pencil in the palm of my right hand and reached it out in front of me so that all the children could see it. Then I handed it to one of them and beckoned for her to give it back. She put it back in my hand and soon the kids were taking turns grabbing it and then replacing it. They had so much fun! I was stunned at how simple the game could be to evoke so much joy. Every time they took the pencil, they all broke down laughing. I couldn’t help but laugh along. Eventually I got bored and snagged the pencil back and then leapt off the rock and sprinted away. I looked back and hinted that they should chase me using my eyes and the smirk on my face. They yelled and screamed and took off after me. We ran circles around each other and I escaped them successfully and then turned the game around on them and started to chase them around. I faked left and right and then launched towards them. Each lunge was greeted with new squeals of joy and peels of laughter. It was so much fun. Again, I think that adults are so uncomfortable with the genuine happiness that we have access to all the time. Children know how to make life full of joy and we could learn from them.
This kind of engagement with life and the choice to pursue the uncomfortable is nearly impossible with the constant reminder of a phone. Pretty much everyone I know constantly has their phone within arms reach. When people are bored, they reach for their phones. What if instead of reaching for phones people played tag, chased each other, climbed trees, played board games, had real conversations, or did countless other more fulfilling activities. Even the presence of a phone is toxic. They pollute our lives and give us a constant opportunity to live a surface-level life. We should not be disconnecting from real life and should follow in the steps of these children. True and powerful joy is right in front of us. Genuine connection is in every moment of eye contact and every shared laugh. Make time to live and stop running away from your life. You only have one.
My phone breaking has been a gift. Who would have thought?