Cells phones have taken over. We use our phones everywhere — in the car, on the toilet, while we wait in line for coffee or groceries. We even use them in the sacred space of our bedrooms, in our beds, when we are supposed to be sleeping. We're shameless about it, too: I find myself on my phone when I am sitting across from my boyfriend in a restaurant when we are supposed to be sharing a meal. Instead of staring into the eyes of the love of my life, I'm looking down at my phone. My ugly, plastic-and-glass cell phone.
Even when we are told to silence our phones or keep them in our pockets or purses, we just can't. I see it happen every time I go to the movies: Someone pulls out their phone and illuminates the dark room, long after a very clear message telling us not to do such a thing has been displayed on the big screen. I often see hubris surface in those who willfully choose to disobey cell-phone rules, as though there is some kind of rebellion in their discourtesy — which there isn't. If you are the dude on the airplane on your phone many minutes past the announcement by flight attendants to not be doing such a thing, all of those eyes looking daggers at you aren't because you're cool.
So, is there a place on this planet that is truly cell-phone free? Is there anywhere left that allows (or forces) us to interact with the world a few inches from our face that our cell phones usually occupy? I think there is, because I accidentally discovered it this past weekend while on a Valentine's Day trek to the hot springs. That place is called a public pool.
Because water and handheld technology generally don't mix, the public pool is, by default, a safe zone from cell phones. I didn't even think about it until I was wading through the water and bodies — it was mostly bodies, actually, as I overheard the woman at the front desk say that the hot springs was experiencing the most visitors she'd ever seen in the history of working there. But even with the little water there was to enjoy, it was the visual absence of my own phone and the presence of other phone-less humans that I was enjoying more.
I couldn't check my Twitter to see how that tweet I had sent out a few hours ago was doing. I was unable to look at Instagram and compare my lovely lover's vacation to my friends' Valentine's Day weekend activities. I couldn't check on which Facebook fires had erupted over the last twelve hours. More important, I couldn't do the thing I find most disturbing about my phone-related online life: scroll mindlessly. Instead of staring at my phone and moving my thumb in an downward motion over and over, I was faced with giving my undivided attention to people-watching, the thing I actually love to do the most.
So I walked through the warm water, listening in on dozens of not-so-private conversations. Two mothers clucked away in verbal competition, comparing the accolades of their adult children — who had better grandkids, whose son had a better job, whose daughter married the better guy. I overheard a dude explaining just how many ATVs he could load onto his new trailer. There were couple after couple passive-aggressively arguing while we all sat together in a giant hot tub created by nature. And not a single cell phone was in sight. It was awesome.
The week prior to my mini-vacation I had participated in the New Tech City Bored and Brilliant Challenge. It was a series of competitions between self and cell phone, offering different ways to disconnect each day for a week — things like deleting your favorite app or intentionally keeping your phone hidden while you were in transit. Doing each of these tasks was much harder than expected, of course. Why? Because it made me face the fact that I spend too much time on my phone. This sounds obvious to anyone else who is like me about their phone, or to those who mentally shame people when they see phone addicts like me gripping tightly to our little love machines.
But the point of the challenge — and something I found to be true when I was wet and phone-less in a public pool — wasn't about shaming or magnifying our dependence on too much tiny screen time; it was about acknowledging the problem and dealing with it in order to make room for more time in our minds. Yes, though our outward projections on social networks might say to the rest of the world that we actually spend too much time in our heads, it is that time that is so necessary to being better at life. Being bored leads to great things — something I had forgotten about until I was forced to be hands-free and hundreds of feet away from this thing I think I need to survive.
Next time you go for a swim — or hey, take a shower or soak in the bath — think about how good it feels to not have your phone. Then take that feeling and try to replicate it in everyday situations. Once you get over the nagging feeling of loss and grapple with the strange attachment to an inanimate object, you will be surprised by where your mind goes. Your mind is a more interesting place than the Internet, I promise.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.