Though our smartphone might as well be glued to our hand these days, The Observer lived until six years ago with nary a cell phone at all, much less one of the smart variety. Hard to imagine, youngsters, but there was once a time when everybody — short of cops, ambulance drivers, truckers and Trumpians so rich they were able to afford a 10-pound mobile phone in a bag — went for long stretches completely incommunicado. These days, we can't even run down to the corner store without our pocket computer. To think The Observer and Spouse once struck out for the wilds of Iowa with only our wits, a map and the kindness of strangers with landlines along the road between us and ruin. Those were the days!
Yours Truly has threatened for years to write a story for the Times in which we go digital cold turkey for a month, including attempting to do the job of a reporter with only a rolodex and telephone, like our inky forebears. We honestly don't know if we could pull that one off.
Speaking of: Little Rock artist V.L. Cox, whose exhibition "Murder of Crows" about race and sex discrimination just closed (see the March 3 issue of the Times for more on the show), decided she needed a rest from manning a gallery and talking art for several weeks. So, she decided to do something drastic: turn off her cellphone and avoid Facebook and the Internet. "I knew it was time to step back," she wrote, "when I started thinking that the purchase of new keyboards came with the instructions that 'you must leave all civility behind while operating.' " She also thought keeping a diary of her withdrawal symptoms would be a good idea, and shared them with The Observer — through email, it must be noted:
"Day 1: I keep looking and picking up my phone (every 3 minutes). Forced myself to go mow the lawn and work the garden while still staring at my phone as it sat inanimate on the picnic table outside. Turned it OFF for the first time in forever when I went to bed. Slept like the dead for the first time in months.
"Day 2: Still fighting the urge to pick up my phone, but can at least leave it on the kitchen table and walk into another room without feeling completely 'naked.' Raked the yard (after just recklessly mowing over all the limbs the day before thinking I might be missing something on my phone) and felt pride in my yard after 1.5 years. Took the time to cook a delicious healthy dinner (instead of eating out and staring at my phone) and turned it off when I went to bed. I slept like the dead for the second time in months.
"Day 3: Woke up feeling rested and full of energy, without my eyes sticking together. ... My eyes are not dry! I constantly have to keep moisture drops in my pocket and in my pillowcase. I HAVE LOST A POUND AFTER MOVING AROUND MORE, and I noticed that Sherrie [V.L.'s partner] is funny again (God, she's a riot!). My vocabulary and spelling skills are also sloooowly coming back (love/hate relationship with spellcheck.) I predict Day 4 will be positive as well and today I'm back in the studio again starting some new projects while on hiatus and have chosen to only be around immediate friends and family. Bottom line, I need a break from the blatant 'intentional' ignorance spewing across bandwidth and the airwaves so I can focus and feel human again. The good news? So far it's working."
Sidenote: Later on Day 3, Cox made a trip to the Habitat for Humanity thrift store on Pike Avenue in North Little Rock, where she heard a woman cry out that her car had just been stolen. Without thinking, Cox hopped in her hot-rod Dodge Caravan and gave chase through Baring Cross, but lost the car thief by stopping for red lights. Cox apologized to police for getting in their business. Convinced she wasn't involved, the police moved on, and caught the thief in Little Rock.
"It's amazing what is really going on in the world around you if you just look up from a cell phone screen," she said.