About a year ago, the last of my friends without a smart phone finally gave in. He had been so proud (or obstinate, rather) about his flip phone. When we met up for a catch up drink, I didn’t even notice him pull out his iPhone until he asked, “Notice anything?” while waving it in front of my face.
Of course, I congratulated him joining the rest of us in 21st century New York.
The truth is, I couldn’t imagine navigating life in NYC without my smart phone. From the time I started searching for apartments, I had a Blackberry to help me travel from one tiny apartment to the next without a map.
Now I use my iPhone all day long: in the morning to meditate, check the weather, and even check my email before I get out of bed. (Yes, I’m a person who does that.) I catch up on the rest of the mail that has come in between 7 and 9am while I wait for my smoothie at Liquiteria. Then I place it by my desk where it will alert me with a lit screen if I have text messages from friends or dates.
But it’s on the weekends that I really need it. What’s the quickest way to get to my friend’s apartment situated in that “up-and-coming” neighborhood in Brooklyn? Is the train actually running? OK, it’s not, which one should I take instead? Texting her: “Ah I’m running late, srry! 15 mins!” What’s the best route by bike to the South Street Seaport? Where’s a good bar nearby? Where should I stand on the subway platform for quickest exit? Which seafood on this menu is sustainable? I’m standing at the farmers market and need a recipe for squash blossoms, help, Epicurious! Just spent $15 at the farmers market, need to note it down for my budget. Me and J. are together at this amazing brunch spot, here’s a pic of our breakfast cocktails. Jealous much?
Obviously, it’s a useful thing to have. But even when I don’t need it, I’m still pulling it out of my pocket, like a worry stone with an LCD screen. An extra minute without something to pull my attention means it’s time to check my mail and stare jealously at A.’s beautiful Instagram pics.
So imagine my horror when I landed at London Heathrow last Saturday and my iPhone’s top left corner only said “Searching…” No! Please, let it work. I need to Instagram the Eiffel Tower! I want to check in at French restaurants and have a map of the metro at my fingertips! But some quick research on my laptop at Heathrow revealed I was SOL.
I, however, am an optimist who loves to read O Magazine articles on how to connect with one’s inner life. I could do this. I could live for a week in a foreign city–in which I wasn’t totally sure I could still have a conversation or even string together sentences–take the metro, meet up at appointed times and just generally function on a basic level. I just needed a flip phone with basic calling and texting functions, and my brain (I hoped) would handle the rest.
Here’s what I discovered:
I interacted with France. As I stood on the platform Monday morning for my first solo trip, and I had nothing to occupy me. I glanced around, and accidentally caught the eye of a French guy across the platform. He smiled at me, and I looked shyly away. When I boarded the train, I looked out the window for lack of anything else to do, and I saw him again. He waved goodbye as the train left the station.
“I forgot that French men hit on you all the time,” I told D. when I met up with her for lunch, telling her what happened. “That hasn’t happened to me!” she said. My guess is that her having her nose always in a Kindle or iPhone makes her unapproachable. Perhaps I should do that same in NYC?
I exercised my brain. D. equipped me with Paris Pratique, which lists every rue in Paris in an index, with a corresponding square in a grid on a neighborhood map. Each time I wanted to get somewhere, I would look up the street, turn to the page, search the square for the street, and then find the nearest metro stations in order to plan my route.
Maybe it sounds crazy, but I quickly grew to love this little brain teaser. Sometimes I chose a longer route than I could have. But doing it this way felt so satisfying. Of course, you could brand me as a tourist as soon as I pulled the little book of maps out of my pocket, but c’est la vie.
I got lost (but that’s OK). This requires a back story: D. and I were at a lovely little wine bar one night when we met a pair of Danish guys. They were in the exact same situation as us, with one living and working in Paris, and the other visiting for the week. Adam and Adam were their names. So Adam #1–as I would come to call him—and I made plans to hang out together the next day while both our friends worked.
When we met up the next day, he was all for just wandering around, getting lost. But it was drizzling on and off, and I had my sights set on the Pompidou. Using my little map, I led us confidently toward the famous modern art museum.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Adam asked once, looking at his phone. I consulted my map. “Yup! We’re headed right down this big street,” I told him. We continued to walk, talking and folding away our umbrellas as the weather cleared. Twenty minutes later, I looked again and realized we had been heading in the exact opposite direction. “Crap!” I cried. “I totally messed up!” Adam smiled an innocent smile. “You knew the whole time, didn’t you,” I said. He just smiled some more. “Jerk!” I smacked him with my Paris Practique, but I was laughing.
We never did make it to the Pompidou, and yet I still really enjoyed our walk. I managed to lead us in the wrong direction a couple more times, but we eventually made it to the Grand Palais for an exhibition. My sense of direction is crap, but there are worse things than getting lost in Paris.
This woman’s expressions is just so French, isn’t it?
I stopped showing off. There were so many times when I had an itch to pull out my iPhone and Instagram some famous monument or Parisian thing and post it to all my social networks. I wanted to check in to every Parisian café and restaurant and museum. “I’M IN PARIS! I wanted to trumpet to every person I know. Eventually I stopped caring and just enjoyed where we were, concentrating on the food and the art and the tulips in the tuilieries.
I rediscovered pens, paper and planning. Before I could go anywhere, I had to write down the name of the street and address, phone numbers, restaurants, directions and everything else I could have looked up on the fly if I had an iPhone. I had slips of paper stuffed into my purse at all times, and what a delicious feeling that was! Making everything digital is so tidy and clean, but a piece of paper covered with evidence of where you went and where you want to go is lovely, tactile and romantic.
Lovely, tactile and romantic … sounds like Paris to me.
I’m back to life with an iPhone now that I’m back in New York, but at least I now know I can survive without it. I just might get a little lost …