Last night, I did something quite daring.
I left my smart phone at home, intentionally, and it was frightfully glorious to go out, un-tethered.
I felt guilty, as if I were doing something quite illicit, not certain if I were violating the law, or taking advantage of my own autonomy by robbing tech companies, influencers, governments and corporations of a means of controlling me. I was alive without geographic monitoring, without something measuring my drive time, my mileage traveled, my steps walked, my calories burned. None of my actions or activities would be used to sell any product, and nothing I did or said or saw was promotable when my phone and I were apart.
On the road, it was just me in the car, behind the wheel, foot on the accelerator and the brake, going where I wanted to go, without mechanically voiced narration.
Childishly, I used my sense of direction to find my way, going back to those old 1960s concepts of navigation through landmarks, buildings, and street signs. I hadn’t a drop of alcohol in me but I was drunk with liberation, with the thrill of looking out the windshield the entire time I was behind the wheel! It was an extraordinary feeling!
Later, I learned that while my phone was off Rachel Maddow was tweating about climate change, and my cousin Ryan was completing his yoga degree in the Bahamas, and my niece Ava was on a hike in Marina Del Rey, and Jesse Somera, model, was eating eggs for breakfast at the Hotel Piranesi Duequattrosei in Milan.
I drove to California Chicken Café on Ventura Bl., about two miles from my house in Van Nuys and I went there without my phone, turning right on Victory, and left on Sepulveda, and right on Ventura, completely without voice or visual guidance.
I parked in the lot and went into the restaurant and ordered food, paid, sat down, and had nothing to do but look and think and wait.
Then the food came.
I ate my salad, chicken and rice without an electronic device, and it was a revelation of existence, an empowering feeling, that I, a lone human in his own life with his own tastes, appetites, desires, and freedoms was allowed to go and have dinner and go about my night without notifications popping up every two minutes.
I dipped my chicken leg into barbecue sauce and ate buttered rice and stared at my food. And then I looked around at other people, and all the things I saw were right there in front of me and actually existed in their living form and material substance.
I was a freed slave and only I knew it.
Enslaved people walked into the restaurant staring at their phones, and they waited to order looking at their phones, and they walked to fill their water cups looking at their phones, and they sat down at the table and waited for their dinner to arrive while looking at their phones.
Outside the sun was setting and the golden rays were hitting the red bricks of St. Cyril of Jerusalem Catholic Church across the street. But I took no photo, because I had no phone, so I merely observed it. I watched the act of sunlight on a building without capturing it and storing it on a digital device.
Service was slow at California Chicken Café and they forgot my whole-wheat pita and I was tempted to post a review on Yelp, but I had no phone, and no app to open, and my private reaction to the gross disappointment of the missing pita bread was not posted online.
Back home, the dead phone was still off, and still plugged into the wall.
And urgent, unseen messages from the actor’s agent directing me to shoot “shirtless” and “sexy” and “six looks” went unseen and unheard and unanswered for another twelve hours until I woke up the next morning.
With the phone still off, I knew nothing of the 39 strangers on Instagram who liked my photo of an orange tree. I heard nothing about the story on Next Door of that poor woman on Kittridge Street whose cat went missing, and I missed out on that long string of an argument about homeless people in Woodley Park, and I didn’t read that article Andreas sent me about a conservative activist who was once a leftist, and I didn’t answer those messages from Beth about what movies were worth watching on Netflix in July.
I washed my face and brushed my teeth and turned off the light and did not look at my smart phone before retiring.
Before I went to bed, I turned on the fan and opened the window and the bedroom smelled of mint and lavender and I could hear the sound of the water fountain on the patio.
And then I fell asleep, and slept only dreaming of dreams that belonged to me and nobody else.