Disconnecting from the connected world: losing that instant gratification

After losing my phone in a cab in Beijing a few weeks ago, I felt disconnected. I was detached from those with whom I speak most and from the constant tether to the connected, smartphone-infested world in which we live. Or in which I (unfortunately?) live, at least.

I’ve certainly totally disconnected numerous times since getting an international (smart)phone. It’s hard to do in the U.S. for any extended period of time. People come to expect short turnarounds with communication. It’s important to set expectations appropriately, and that expectation is something I’m okay with. When I’m home.

But when traveling even I (!) understand the importance of totally enjoying the experience and not missing out on anything while tapping away on a phone. It can be important when going on new adventures or sharing a unique experience at home, too. I’ll admit that sometimes I might need some reminding. I still need to improve when I have a BlackBerry at my disposal, but I’m working on it. I got ample opportunity to do so in China for the majority of the trip (when given no other choice).

It was a liberating feeling. To some extent. But at the same time, when you’re used to instantaneous answers to any question you might have, particularly practical (and important) ones such as where am I (GPS) or what’s the address of the place I want to go to, it can be aggravating. I ended up losing time having to figure out certain details ahead of time – small details that would be easy to look up while out and about.

Of course 5-10 years ago none of what is now possible was available to international travelers. At least not economically. More extensive planning was usually necessary. But it’s nice to be able to wander with no concerns about where or when you’re going to meet someone or how to get there.

I got a local China phone soon after losing mine so I could meet up with people there. It was a practical (and cheap) purchase. However, not long before the era of smartphones, the idea of a world phone (or buying a local mobile phone) at all was unheard of. Meeting up with someone abroad meant agreeing upon a pre-determined place and time. I am thankful for being able to be more mobile thanks to such recent innovations. Traveling is more enjoyable because of it. And that’s why I was sure to get a local phone shortly after losing my BlackBerry.

So what are your thoughts on disconnecting from the connected world? Would you consider leaving your smartphone behind altogether when embarking on a new journey? Do you ever feel overly connected or are you content with the convenience afforded by your smartphone?

Ed. note: This post was written on my (new) BlackBerry.

Update: Right after posting this I spent 3 days in Yellowstone without absolutely any connection whatsoever: no phone signal, no WiFi, nothing. It was great to be forced to disconnect, as I alluded to above. I find it humorous that I had better signal cruising down the Yangtze River in the middle of the Three Gorges than I did anywhere in the U.S.. I wonder if the National Park Service has intentionally kept the cell companies out of the parks.

I’m sure people who work in the parks know what they’re getting into, but it’s hard to imagine, in this day and age, living without a cell phone entirely. Maybe they have satellite phones, but calls on those are very pricey I imagine, and they probably use land-line phones more than the rest of us do anymore. While they have access to computers, they are, however, seemingly forced to live like the Amish pretending the technology of the past decade doesn’t exist. Maybe they like it that way.

4 thoughts on “Disconnecting from the connected world: losing that instant gratification

  1. Pingback: A hike up Huangshan: one of the most beautiful places I’ve been | Bressler's Bytes

  2. Thomas Aylmer

    Nice post on whether to leave modern communications behind. I think it depends on why you are there. If your an adventurous traveler looking to see what is left of the primitive world, leave the cell phone behind. But if you’re trying to do business, you better bring the Blackberry.

    By the way, how much is a cell phone with service over in China? Do they have all the new Android phones? I’m thinking I will need one for the year in Xi’an.

    1. Scott Bressler Post author

      The cell phone I bought was the cheapest I found in the store I went to, and with a SIM card and 100 RMB worth of minutes, cost about $50. I didn’t look at the smartphones there much, though I know they had no BlackBerrys and I didn’t notice any Android phones. I would most recommend getting an unlocked phone in the US and just buying a Chinese SIM over there.

  3. Leslie Strom

    Years ago when I worked for the Forest Service in the Olympic National Forest, I drove a fire patrol (classic Government job, looking for fires in the pouring rain) and had a citizens’ band radio that worked well most of the time. This was before cell phones, and the range was considerable without depending on cell towers, even in the mountains. I still have a CB in my car, ready for the apocalypse (or snowpocalypse or solarflarepocalypse).


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