This past Monday night, the lives of thousands of Israelis were thrown into chaos. Golan Telecom experienced a technical failure and people lost cellphone service for five hours. I was one of them. Many Golan customers made public statements regarding their anger with the company, with some saying that they plan to switch carriers. Despite the frustrations which I too experienced during those challenging five hours, I want to thank Golan for this technical failure that provided me with an eye-opening experience.
The system went down as I was setting off to drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I lost Waze. I lost the ability to call anyone. And you know what I did? I focused on driving. It was a moment of liberation in which I had nothing to do but drive, and I could tangibly feel how this improved my driving. I was aware of everything that was going on around me, and had flashbacks to the old days when all we did was drive with no distractions.
A second discovery accompanied my cellphone-free driving: following signs and asking for directions to reach my destination. I paid attention to where I was and noticed things about Tel Aviv and its layout that I have never noticed in my Waze-based driving experience.
Freedom to just drive and recognize my environment on the road was not the only freedom that those five hours granted me. Not having Internet or the ability to text meant that I had nothing else to do other than focus on the presentation which I attended. How unusual. Make no mistake about it – people were sending me WhatsApp/sms messages and emails. I was also getting Facebook and Twitter notifications. But I was unaware of them and had no way to see them.
I had also posted something on Facebook shortly before the service stopped working, but I was unable to see if people liked or commented on my post. And finally, while no doubt there was news taking place during those five hours, for the most part – with the exception of the news on the hour on the radio while I was driving – I was unaware of the minute to minute news. When my service came back on, the world was still in existence and I was able to check the news sites and learn about the events of the previous five hours.
Nothing was pulling me to look at my phone, and I simply put in my pocket and listened to the presentation. When people spoke to me afterward, I was fully engaged in the conversation and gave them my undivided attention. I was free to be in the moment without distractions from elsewhere.
Research studies indicate that the average person checks their phone anywhere from 85 to 200 times per day, or several times per hour. Sherry Turkle, in her book, “Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other,” writes that as a result of our cellphones, we live in “continual co-presence” and a “world of continual partial attention.” I have always enjoyed the 25-hour break from my cellphone on Shabbat, but the experience of losing cellphone service on a weekday while on the road opened my eyes to the reality that I too have been afflicted with “continual co-presence.” The rewarding experience of being fully present and completely attentive to everything and everyone around me has set me on a path toward weaning myself off the constant pull to check my phone – out of a fabricated need to be up-to-date at all times.
So I am thankful to Golan for their technical error that has provided me with this epiphany, and invite all readers to join me in putting away our cellphones and being fully attentive and engaged with the people and the events that we are experiencing in person. The pings can come later.