Creative: Powering down from Mobile

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I accidentally did something interesting. As you know, I recently attended the fourteenth year of the Palm Springs Photo Festival. I love this event. This event is truly unique to photography. This event is also tailor-made for social media, at least for most people. And up until this year, “most people,” included me.

Cover of my current notebook/journal/diary.

But this year something strange happened. I never touched my phone. Over five, entirely full days I never made a single image with my phone, nor did I make a single social media post. Why? Well, this is more difficult to explain. I THINK what happened is I finally hit the wall with IG for the second time in my life. The first time I hit the wall I was walking down the road in Pie Town, New Mexico and I deleted the app. I didn’t delete it this time around, not yet anyway, but my brain said to me, “Stop doing this.” So I did.

Standard page of notes.

When the festival came along I defaulted back to the old me. Notebook, camera. I used both of these items extensively. I attended a workshop about breaking into the Asian market and I made five-pages of notes. I attended another class about concepts and contextualization and I took another-five pages of notes. I listened, wrote and LEARNED. I also made photographs. Better images than I would have made with my phone. Images that will land in the selects folder from shooting eleven years of this festival. High-res, 24-megapixel images made from lenses that go far beyond the camera on my mobile device. I was building an archive if you will. Written, photographed.

Notes from PSPF class.

And here is what I didn’t do. I didn’t sit with my phone in hand attempting to encapsulate what was happening by quoting witty quotes paired with average imagery. I didn’t spend time hashtagging while the program in front of me transpired while my brain was busy keeping up with the world of vanity metrics. (And just think about how much time people spend returning to their feed to check on flow and response volume. Yikes.)

I realized that when I “cover” something with my phone I become almost entirely detached from the experience itself. Guess how many pages of notes I have from last year’s festival. Zero. What do I remember about last year’s festival? Nothing. I actually don’t remember a thing. Let me remind you. It is physically impossible for the human brain to do two things at once.

Notes over an image of me speaking in The ABQ.

When you walk around an environment filled with masses of people completely absorbed in their mobile devices you find yourself in a unique, observational position. And it looks entirely absurd. Four or five photographers all sharing space on one small, hotel couch and none of them speaking to one another. Lost on tiny, digital islands. And you wonder how we find ourselves in the position we do. I’m here to advise, we no longer need to wonder.

Here is my advice. Whatever you do don’t carry your phone in your front pocket. Guys, knowing what we know about these devices, why would you carry this thing right next to your naughty bits? Geez, that should be obvious. But try this, carry your phone in your pack. Don’t make it easy to get at. And keep the pack in your backseat or trunk when you drive. When you find yourself reaching for the phone stop and ask “Is this mandatory?” I would guess that eighty-percent of the time the answer will be “no.” I’m being polite. The percent will be much higher but I’m allotting for the MASSES of people who always reply, “But I have to check my email,” which they do hundreds of times a day out of sheer habit and addiction, or they respond “but someone just texted me,” as if all text messages are life and death.

Notes for my next 4WIW Podcast.

If you survive two weeks of doing this I’m guessing you will pass through the same veil that I did. You will emerge into a world of clarity, of peace, calm and transcendent, universal free love. Okay, THAT might be a stretch, but you will feel different and you will see things differently I can almost guarantee it.

Comments 6

  1. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was just this…step back from social media and do away with it altogether. The come to Jesus moment for me came when I was on the floor playing with my son and I myself was on a digital island, iPhone in hand scrolling through Instagram while my almost two year old son was building trains asking me to join him. Not my proudest moment.
    I also read Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism” where he recommended a digital declutter and filling the void with more meaningful things like reading a book. Let’s just say I’ve read 15 books so far this year…that’s major.

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      I watched this SAME thing happen at a pizza parlor…yesterday. A dad following the golf tournament on his phone while he kids looked at him in desperation. We’ve all done it but recognizing you are doing it is a good first step. I post most of my reads on this site so I share your book lust.

  2. Reading digitally is generally speaking the pit you can fall into, making the bridge too short to jump to any notification popping up. Listening to music and reading on the same machine kills the real reading experience too. Reading on printed paper (mags or newspapers or books)or a not connected e-reader is the only way for me to get off and enjoy. Could throw out the smartphone but I’m hooked on podcasts. Through wifi though as I kicked the 4G data connection out last year, making the iP a semi-thumb phone when out and about.

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      I read on both but prefer the paper. I like paper too for the design of the book. The type, the illustrations, etc. And the cover art. Most of which is hard to get on digital reader.

  3. Some folks seem to be able to read on their devices, it doesn’t work for me. I like the weight of a book in my lap, and I read the news on my computer every morning every morning, but am finished with a couple of publications by the end of my first cuppa coffee. I know this is partly due to everything being presented on the same visual plane , and the superficial scanning technique that I have developed.
    However, when I stop off in a cafe’ and find a leftover newspaper (even from yesterday), There is plenty to choose from.

    When my daughter came along, my mother sent me a video camera-this turned out to be a visual black hole until one day I realized I was watching the kid right in front of me grow up through a viewfinder.
    I have a hard enough time beingpresent, I didn’t needhelp from Panasonic.

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      Great comment. Having spent most of my adult life staring through a camera I can see your point. Did you see Secret Life of Walter Mitty? Sean Penn’s character says “Sometimes I don’t shoot if the moment is perfect,” type of thing. It comes off kinda out there but it makes sense in some ways. Newspapers, coffee, and patience. The world would be a better place if we have more of these items.

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