Last month, I got to be part of a week-long retreat where sixty strangers spent seven days together with no smartphones or any technology at all... and it was incredible. When the retreat was over and they handed our phones back to us, most people were anxious about turning theirs back on, because life for the last week had been so amazing without them. It was game-changing for all of us to be so connected to each other (and ourselves), just by being completely disconnected from our phones. That last morning, when they handed me back my iPhone X, I just threw it in my suitcase and headed home. I never turned my smartphone on that day, and here it is a few weeks later and I still haven’t. Instead, the following day, I turned on a little Verizon flip phone—an even smarter phone—and gave my iPhone X away to someone else.
Joey and I did a similar thing five years ago. For the whole year of 2014, right before Indiana was born... we both traded our iPhones for flip phones. As a matter of fact, one of my first blog posts was about that decision. And it was amazing. Our lives got richer because of those cheap little phones. But by the following January, there were two new iPhones on the charger next to our bed. A necessity we believed to take pics of our newborn baby, see the baby monitor from any room, and a hundred other good reasons at the time to have one again. But something inside us knew that for all we’d be gaining, we’d lose much more. And we have. The last one I had, the iPhone X was a sleek, thin, beautiful version that in the last five years has been refined and refined so that it’s filled with amazing new features and megapixels and apps, built especially to make our lives better. And it does I guess in some ways. But mostly, I think it made my life worse.
It ensures that I can never be present. Not completely. Never actually alone with my thoughts or in a single conversation with another person. Instead, it makes it possible to multitask a thousand things at once. I can be at a table having breakfast in Marcy Jo’s talking with someone, responding to other people's texts, googling any and all thoughts we might be talking about, checking the weather and traffic to the next place I’m going, and even take and post pictures of us while we’re talking. That little phone that Steve Jobs and his team invented a dozen years ago makes it possible to do almost anything... except actually being there in that moment completely.
And the impact it's had on my friendships has been heartbreaking. No one has actually complained of course, because they’re all doing the same thing. Being here, and there and a million other places at once... wishing they could find more peace, wondering how these devices that are supposed to make our lives easier have made things more complicated. But I think the person it’s most detrimental for is Indiana. She doesn’t know what the smartphone is, not really. It’s just that square thing that Papa magically talks in and to. That he’s constantly pulling out of his pocket to check. That somehow holds thousands of pictures, videos, and even “shows” (her word for Disney movies) inside of it. It’s what she’s supposed to look at when people say, “smile Indy!" And somehow, it’s the way she can talk to and see her big sisters’ faces in Alabama, a hundred miles away from her.
But it’s also why her Papa isn’t fully in the living room with her when we’re playing with a puzzle together. Or having dinner. Or reading at bedtime. It’s the thing that causes us to capture the moments that matter in our lives, instead of actually being in them.
And so the day before I went on the retreat, I decided “enough is enough.” It was the morning after our neighbor Scout had passed away. Myself and another friend were at Gabe and Mandy’s neighbor’s house, and I was talking to Mr. Wayne, the man in his eighties now who owns their farmhouse and the land all around them. I was there to ask if it would be okay if Scout could be buried in the cemetery behind their farmhouse... so like Joey here at ours... Scout could be only a few hundred yards from the yard she played in. Close enough for her mama and daddy to still see her. Feel her. Remember her.
When I asked Wayne, big tears filled his eyes, and he said, “Edna and I would be honored to have her here.” Then he asked me to give his son Michael a call to let him know since all this property would be his one day. And he handed me his flip phone and said, “his number’s in here if you can figure out how to work these new-fangled things.”
That was the moment for me. The last picture I took with my iPhone was of his flip phone. I went home later that morning and ordered the same one he had, and it was waiting for me when I got back from the retreat.
The day I drove home with my old iPhone in my suitcase, was also the day of Scout’s funeral. As I pulled in our gate and parked my truck, Heidi and Hopie and Indiana were walking out the door of our farmhouse, headed across the driveway for Scout’s funeral service which was held in our barn. I scooped up the baby and ran upstairs and put on some black bibs and a few minutes later took a seat next to my girls at the service. It was hard to hold back the tears during the barn service and at the gravesite between Wayne and Gabe’s houses.
Thinking about how lucky I am to have my little one run into my arms after being without her for a week—and knowing that it had been a week since Gabe and Mandy had held Scout in their arms—and that this side of Heaven, they’d never get to experience that again.
After the graveside service, I gave Wayne a hug and said thank you. Partly for the beautiful piece of sacred ground that we were all standing on as the preacher said “from dust to dust,” but also for the inspiration. He played an important part in helping me remember not to miss any of these special moments with my little girl. And that none of us are promised tomorrow. Wayne has no idea about any of this, and I feel fairly certain he’s not a big blog reader. He like every one of us, has a lot on his own plate... taking care of a hundred or more head of cattle, himself, and his aging sweet wife of 50-plus years. Real-world problems. Life.
And so in the grand scheme of things, me going from my iPhone to a flip phone isn’t much of a big deal. But it’s a start. The next step on a path to not just living out each day, but being fully alive while I do it. I suspect that there are lots of other folks out there doing the same thing... ditching their smartphones, and making the difficult trek from better technology to a better life.
I’m a storyteller. A writer and a capturer of life. And so I’m not sure yet how I’m gonna handle taking pics and videos to share. It will be harder I guess. I’m starting to carry a real camera around with me now and trying to make sure I remember to be in the moment, and not just capture it. I still want to continue documenting and sharing our life, as I have been. But not at the expense of living it well.
Indiana’s turning five years old in a few weeks and one day when she gets older, she too will want an iPhone, or whatever handy, dandy gadget has been invented then—that promises to make your life better, but challenges the balance of it instead. And she will have to make her own choice as to what makes life richer, fuller, and more meaningful. In the meantime, I’ll be holding down the #1 button to retrieve my voicemail and pushing #7 to delete. And she’ll be beside me, trying to figure out how in the world this new, old-fangled thing works... but mostly thankful that her Papa is here with her. Really here.
P.S.: If you’re struggling with technology like most of us are... wishing you could trade your iPhone in for a flip phone but not sure it’s possible. I encourage you to walk up to the edge and jump.
This is the one I bought. The one Mr. Wayne has in his pocket too...