My iPhone doesn’t work in the United States. Or, more succinctly, the roaming charges would cost more than a flight at high season. So, along with my desktop, my automobile, and my TV work, I have laid my iPhone to rest for the next five weeks.

In a phrase, I am entering the No iPhone Zone.

It makes me light-headed at the thought, really. Fiddling with my various apps as we waited for the travel agent to nail down the actual flight times that had changed since we booked the trip seven months ago, I realized how wonderful my iPhone feels, resting with such trust in my hands. When some of my friends warned me about how fragile an iPhone can be, I quickly ran out to get a protective cover for it. And I’ve dropped mine twice; each time it was cushioned by an ultra-shock absorbing cover, a ‘thick skin’ if you will, to ensure a soft landing on any hard-tiled floor. I take great care to always have it with me. Not very slow of me, I know. But there are some things a girl just can’t do without.

Or can she?

As the travel agent clicked and tsked at his desk, my children and I each pulled out our various gadgets to make the wait more bearable. He went on and on with the airline until I finally got up, confident that my children were adequately distracted, and ran an errand before plopping myself down again. Just as I entered his office again, he put down the phone.

“I really don’t have time for this,” he sighed, as he folded the final travel documents into an envelope. His desk was clear, he had no to-dos bursting from his appointment book, and I wondered, as I discreetly tucked my iPhone into my bag, what he did have time for. Booking travel arrangements for people is his job, after all. Maybe it was all in his iPhone hidden in a drawer somewhere.

As we gathered our things, I spoke loudly enough so the agent could hear me. “We’re travelling without our gadgets,” I explained to the children who looked at me quizzically. But then, through some magical spell, they agreed.

“No iPod, no iPhone, no nothing. Nada. Nichts! We’re going to take in our surroundings when we reach the States. Basta!”

We all laughed at the thought of a real-live unplugged vacation. Go West, young lassy. And leave those devices behind. I can do it. I know I can.

It may not be as quiet in the car now, but I’m actually glad. That No iPhone Zone is sounding pretty good after all!

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If you’ve ever been to airports with automated speed walk sidewalks, you’ll observe that about fifteen feet before the sidewalk ends, you hear a voice alerting you to your pending expulsion from it. Not so for real sidewalks on the street.

Photo courtesy of Ohio State College of Engineering

According to a New York Times report, a recent Ohio State University study about texting while walking and the 1000 reported injuries incurred by texting walkers points to an increasing issue of pedestrian traffic safety.  Ohio State University’s Transportation and Parking department is trying to offset the rising epidemic by putting up signs such as the one pictured here.

Or, as I like to say, “You text? You’re next.” That goes for pedestrians as well as drivers.

I can see it now. Sidewalks will soon be equipped with textured flooring just to alert texting pedestrians that a curb is approaching. Or maybe they’ll have recordings of soothing, yet urgent voices like the ones at today’s airports, pointing the way to safety and attention.

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Focus is hard to come by, especially when the temptation of a thousand distractions pulls at our kids’ attention. Bach Kids Daydream Remedy is a great, alcohol-free way to bring your kids’ concentration back on track.

dr_homeThe folks at Bach are offering EIGHT free giveaways of Bach Kids Daydream Remedy made with Bach Clematis.

To enter simply leave a comment about how you’re experiencing back-to-school (frenetically? happily? slowly?) and sign up for our news alerts (just above the turtle). We’ll enter you into the giveaway. DEADLINE: August 24th.

Arielle Ford was in the air, heading towards Las Vegas while she read my book (and ‘highlighted much of it’ she said in an email – she likes it. She really likes it!). Her husband, sitting next to her, kept poking her in the side while he read a recent New York magazine article by Sam Anderson entitled “The Benefits of Distraction and Overstimulation”. She was amazed at the parallels in my book with his article. It was a funny moment of synchronicity as they soared the Western skies.

socratesNaturally curious, I googled Sam’s article to see what similarities I might find. His article was distinctly hilarious, giving our collective worry about distraction a new spin. Never snarky (I hate snarky), always pithy (I love pithy), his article hits the nail on the head.

Maybe there is some neurological benefit to all this connectivity. (Grossly absent in his argumentation about the younger generation is the fact that, until around age twenty, people in general have higher cognitive abilities than our sagging middle-aged brains, but who am I to be a wet blanket at his party?) Perhaps, his article suggests, we can positively alter our brain’s wiring through technology after all.

My issue with our hyperconnected world is what gets lost in the translation. We text, ping, upload and download with abandon. But how much time do we waste in the process? Is a superhuman brain truly desirable? To what end?

His article is balanced (because he gives my camp ample play), yet critical of too much outcry over technological advances and their damage it might inflict on our tender brains. Technophobes have always dampened the spirits of those who enjoy its benefits. After all, he rightly paraphrases Socrates, the greatest orator who ever lived, as saying the written word was scandalous for its ‘memory-destroying properties’ because, well, it was a recording of wisdom and not the wisdom itself.

In my mind, writing is an organized system lending structure to thought, but it is not the thoughts themselves. Without drifting too far into epistimology, I would note that our pleasure systems have altered dramatically. We have moved from a visual society to an oral society to a visual one again. Before we could speak, we painted pictures on cave walls. Then came speech and the value of oration. We later developed a vastly distributed writing system with more visual stimuli (Greek statues, tablets and monuments come to mind). Auditory pleasures remained through music and a common delivery system called radio. Then, taking a leap through the centuries came the prominence of the visual medium again through television and now YouTube.

Each generation deals with its own level of distraction. Whatever triggers it is rather immaterial – what is important is how we manage the distractions as they come. I favor mindful living over filling the mind with senseless chatter.

What’s your take?

Last week in New York City, I sat down with Distracted author Maggie Jackson for a rare face-to-face interview. It was rare because most of the interviews I conduct are through the digital medium, either via phone, Skype or email. We enjoyed a cup of chamomille tea at a quaint Swedish cafe just off Columbus Circle where, during one of my previous visits, I had spotted Scarlett Johansson rushing by while chatting on her cell phone.

Once we got acquainted, our discussion quickly turned to one of the subjects in her book that is most pressing on my mind – the blending of man and distractedmachine. Digital devices are rapidly becoming extensions of ourselves. Quickly surveying the Manhattan landscape, you are guaranteed to see at least five people with a cell phone or BlackBerry pressed to their skull at any given moment. I had to ponder whether that man on the corner who was smiling into space was actually directing his humor at me or at the pinky-sized ear attachment that blinked periodically as he spoke.

“Our constant connectivity leaves little time for self-reflection,” Maggie aptly stated. She pointed to the surfeit of information we handle on a daily basis. “Virtuality [on some level] trumps ‘reality’.” We have built worlds based on digital data. And now it’s portable, too.

Cultivating our inner self comes when we give our thoughts time and space to unfold. Take the recent Miss USA debacle in which Miss California took a stand against gay marriage. It is said that Miss California felt she was the true winner of the Miss USA pagent because of the number of Facebook friend requests and tweets she received. If that is true, it does not bode well for our children’s generation. Internet ranking as the benchmark for morality? A scary prospect indeed.

“Twitter, by its nature, is very reductive. It accentuates the trivial,” Maggie suggested. She was quick to point out how Twitter exacerbates our love of the instantaneous. Instant gratification informs who we are as a nation. Don’t make me wait. Give me the answers now. Yet, at what cost?

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane at Munich’s International airport. The air was a blend of spring and serenity. People weren’t generally moving at the speed of a Tweet. I returned home to my non-existent couch that I had ordered seven weeks ago.

“You’ll receive it in the eighteenth calendar week,” the sales rep stated, not without a tinge of annoyance that I should expect it any sooner. I marveled at the cultural differences between the US and Germany for a moment. The power of slow shone through once again. Some things take time. We needn’t rush it. The furniture store hasn’t learned about citizen journalism or Twitter yet. Perhaps a new social media movement will provide the tipping point that will make the furniture industry in Europe self-adjust. Given the speed at which Germany moves, it may take decades before they catch up.

And that might not be such a bad thing, after all.

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