Three (and a half?) years ago I studied abroad in Ghana. While living in Ghana for three point five months, I had an absolute shit burner probably stolen and resold phone that had very sticky keys and couldn't do anything but call people at absurdly high prices and text people at even higher ones.
At first, I thought this was the worst, re: not being able to text constantly and play any games or having easy access to things like email slash whatever apps were in vogue at the time.
But eventually not having a real phone actually afforded me a great gift, which was that it forced me to deal with my mind and myself every minute of every day and not rely on an object to synthesize social interaction until it was so immediate as to constantly assuage an ever present anxiety.
When I got back from Africa, my relationship with technology was vastly improved. I haven't played a game constantly on my phone in the three point five years since. I still love Angry Birds theoretically...but I haven't actually played it a lot since Ghana.
But there's this thing Lucy Grealy said / where we learn things and we think we learn them forever but then we actually have to relearn them a lot of times in our lives. This has been coming up a lot for me lately.
There was this time the spring before I went abroad where I was so scared / anxious / whatever about Ghana that I was like hey study abroad people maybe I should go somewhere else. And I researched these programs and we discussed things and at the end of the day the very smart lady told me:
“It's not too late for you to go somewhere else. If you really want to switch to [France] etc, you could do that and you could go there. But I talk to a lot of kids who have studied abroad. And the kids who go to Spain they usually come back and like the next day they tell me, 'THAT WAS THE BEST THING EVER I LOVED IT IT WAS AMAZING!' … and you aren't going to tell me that when you get back from Ghana. But your experience of studying in Ghana will continue to affect you for years to come, and it will change your life not necessarily right away, but it will change you for many years after.
Paraphrased, obviously. But it was so, so true.
Because there's a lot of ways I've changed since Ghana. I can't really count/tender it, but it changed my relationship to happiness and to art and to people and to my diet and to my body, all in small ways that I can't really describe in this post where I'm talking about other things. Today a chaperon from my program posted photos of a painting I created there...three and a half years ago. I recognized it immediately, and I couldn't believe they hadn't thrown it out by now.
But of course they hadn't, because Ghana isn't here.
Anyway, I had a great relationship with technology when I got back from Ghana. And then slowly...the American way of associating a phone with an actual person got back into my life. And I do think this is complicated, because I love how I feel like I can have close relationships with my friends who are far away because of iPhones and I really do treasure that my good friends from Johnston and I can have a group text where we just shoot these jokes for three hours and it's clear to us that nothing has changed. I like how I can talk to my mom every day without actually using the phone, and how I can tell someone a random fact without it having to be a whole phone conversation.
It's fucked me up. Because my relationship with my phone is so constant that I automatically assume that anyone who doesn't have that constant response time and need to reply to the last statement made in any text isn't a person who cares about me. This is not just me. This is literally all of current society. People put so much fucking pressure on if someone is a good texter and how often someone is texting you. I have friends who basically told me – because they literally told me in words – that they started liking their boyfriend because he was a good texter. And like oh if he's not texting you he doesn't like you.
But what? Like actually, can we discuss this belief for a minute? Because it's fucking bullshit. So someone is a good texter and you automatically trust them and ignore everything else about them that could be a flaw? What if someone is great in all other ways and is bad with their phone? Oh, we don't like them, they must be the worst? What if someone is a great texter but also a boring and bad and immature and shitty person but oh we like them anyway because they're good at texting?
That's fucking absurd. But mostly, it doesn't acknowledge at all...that I, and most people I daresay, have a fucked up relationship with our phones. And it also doesn't acknowledge that technology and our relationship to it is actually pretty much irrelevant to how we are as humans.
We go around and live our lives – we go to our jobs and do our hobbies and cook or clean or go the gym or whatever...and yet most of us need this constant secondary stimulation from technology, which is usually a cell phone. You check facebook or twitter or instagram, and you expect it to give you this reinforcement, this stimulation, this reassurance, that you are a part of the world and that people care about you.
And I like instagram! I like being able to tell what my friends are doing, I like the quippy nature of twitter. But I can also acknowledge how very bad these things are when we intake them too far.
Because we're all part of this certain generation, that needs constant stimulation. So you start checking your phone all the damn time. And if you don't have any texts, you check insta, and if you don't have enough likes on your last picture, you post another one or you check your email, and if you don't have any relevant emails you see if you have any followers on twitter, and if at the end of it you don't have any stimulation, you feel somehow ashamed.
But why? Can't I just be satisfied in being me without anyone validating my existence? Why do we need to photograph our lives and have other people like them to feel legitimate? I know very well that you don't have to talk to someone very day or even every week for them to be important to you, so why am I still sensitive about how often people text me? Why do people feel the need to post facebook statuses about every single thing they think? What is this cycle of reassurance and validation?
I am a very intense person, which I have had to accept. I have also been able to notice that a lot of important people to me are very laid back, and those laid back people tend to be much less attached to their phones than I am.
I have always felt this need to assume how much someone cares about me by how much they communicate with me via technology. But that is a very reductive phenomena, because it negates the fact that any other person might not have the same obsessive relationship to technology that I do. And more importantly, it assumes that all good people are attached to their phones, which as Chandler would say, is SO NOT TRUE.
I get it though, because technology gives us a frame of reference. If x person texts me x much, they must care about me. If they text me not that much, they must not.
And here's where the real lie comes in...we assume that if someone texts us all the time, they must really like us. But all that really shows is that someone is very attached to the inanimate object of their cell phone, which in the end...is not a very attractive trait at all.
In the end, for me, technology just causes me too much fucking anxiety. I think of how I was towards the end of Ghana, where I was totally able to not seek certainty and pleasure and stimulus from my phone. And obviously all times in our lives have good things and bad thing and trials and absurdities, but I know that when I left Ghana and for a few months after my relationship with technology was good...and then over many months it has gotten progressively worse.
I know that I'm an anxious person, and I know that technology, while it seems to help that, is only a bandaid. It's not actually helping anything. It just gives me a temporary reassurance. What I want in the long run is to not need reassurances from friends or text messages or the internet, but to be mentally calm for as much time as is possible. And technology is pretty much the opposite of calm.
Hence I am going to try to wean myself off my dependence on technology. Because I know, in the long run, I don't want to be a person who texts all day and checks email/instagram/whatever out of habit just because it's a stimulus. I have been at a place in my life before where my mind and my breath is the only thing I need to keep going, and that is the best place for me. Or really anyone. I want to slow my timeline down so I don't need reassurance at every hour but instead can last days or weeks on my own without stimuli.
And I mean, this is hard. I definitely should do more yoga. I think physical activities are good...but most solo physical activities involve an iphone re music, so that's hard. I'm thinking about taking up horseback riding again. Talk about things that make you be involved without much to think about, jesus. Other than that, I don't know. Just taking it day by day, I suppose.