COLUMN: Being unplugged from the digital world

Having to put the smartphone away for a few hours isn’t as easy as you’d think

A few weeks ago, my wife and I attended a comedy show at which no cellphones were allowed.

At the door, we turned off our phones and they were locked away in a fabric pouch and returned to us, now conveniently just-too-big to fit back in our pockets.

It’s become common practice at live performances, as comedians, musicians and speakers alike aim to curtail video recording of their shows. Which is all well and good.

As someone with friends who are performers, I respect not wanting your work posted online without your consent. That said, I’ll admit, it was a pretty difficult two hours.

Oh, the show itself was great, and as it turned out, we ended up with front-row seats despite our tickets saying ‘Row 4.’

It was the perfect vantage point from which to not take a photo.

Or check into the venue on Facebook. Or text a friend.

And it wasn’t for lack of trying, either. On a handful of occasions – especially pre-show while we waited for the house lights to dim – I reached to my pocket, wanting to relay some funny observation to a friend, or even just check the score of the hockey game.

Wasted efforts, of course, but old habits die hard.

Without our phones, all that was left to do was – and this sounds crazy, I know – enjoy the moment.

A great concept, sure, but it took some getting used to. We’d been seated less than five minutes before my wife turned to me and said what we’d both been thinking since we got there.

“What are we supposed to do now, talk to each other?”

It’s the old ‘tree falling in the forest’ philosophical question, updated for 2019.

If you go somewhere and don’t tweet about it, did it ever really happen?

Can you actually be too online?

In the end, we successfully managed to while away the minutes until the show began, at which point not having access to our phones was of little concern, as our attention was rightfully diverted to what we had actually paid money to see.

And we had a wonderful night.

But the whole situation did make me realize how addicted we all are to our smartphones.

It’s a very real, well-documented issue. Teachers who are flustered by students who use phones during class; distracted drivers who would rather text than pay attention to the road; even pedestrians can put themselves at risk, walking with their heads down, minds occupied by Instagram stories rather than the world around them.

I’m as bad as the next person, as I try to stay plugged into group-text chains and how my fantasy sports teams are doing.

And so it was that, in the lobby after the show, my phone was released from its shackles and I was able to re-connect to the world.

Oh, the things I had missed – one call from an unidentified, overseas number and two emails from LinkedIn.

It was good to be back.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

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