I’ve adopted a new habit– which, since it’s new, isn’t a habit yet, but let’s play pretend for a bit– where I retire electronic communication with the outside world from the moment I step out of my office, until I arrive back at my apartment every afternoon. It provides a nice 45-minute respite from the onslaught of, “Arrange this meeting plz,” emails, awkward penguin memes and texts from my friends about who or what ever it is we’re outraged by today. Or just some pictures of cats.
Spending nine hours in front of a computer, with my phone never more than five inches from my hand, means my brain is ceaselessly stimulated while my body only moves enough to answer the phone or make letters and numbers appear on a screen. And on occasion, I’ll decide to walk to and from the bathroom unnecessarily, just to make sure my legs still exist.
The human body, considered purely as a mechanism, is severely underutilized in the case of Hannah Tool. As for the mind, I’m still undecided as to whether or not I’m making good use of that. It’s no simple feat to inspect my cognitive function when I’m focusing all of my conscious mental energy on rearranging my boss’s calendar appointments.
So on my way home, I unplug.
I only started doing this because my phone is essentially a bar of soap and frequently stops functioning for long periods of time. When it does, I have to remove the battery, plug the phone in, put the battery back, then power the phone on, off, and on again. This voodoo ritual was not possible last Tuesday when my phone pissily powered down on my walk to the BART station in downtown San Francisco. So, I was forced to make the trek with my social tendrils withdrawn.
At first I panicked and found myself furiously weaving my fingers together, fidgeting with obsessive vigor. I’m sure I looked insane, but everyone on the train had an iPhone three inches from their nose, so I didn’t really have an audience for my awkward.
It was a lonely experience, honestly.
When I was thirteen, I’d post AOL Instant Messenger away messages lamenting the feeling of being alone in a crowded room. But not until a decade later have I actually grasped the meaning of that notion. And it’s not such a negative one; loneliness is inappropriately coupled with unhappiness in most’s cerebrums. It shouldn’t be.
Standing pressed against the train’s wall, with a fat man’s ass rubbing against my hip and three hipsters with– accidental?– matching thick-rimmed, lensless glasses surrounding– with their backs facing me– my isolated little bubble, I just looked at people. Which may be a bit strange, but I’ve never claimed to hail from the lands of normalcy, so you can go ahead and dismount that high horse.
People, it turns out, are fascinating. Or, at least, the fantasy lives I pin to their imaginary lapels while staring at them on my daily commute have turned out to be quite interesting. Rather than trying to make offensive Words With Friends moves in the five different games my mom and I have going right now, I made up pasts, futures, dreams and regrets for all of the strangers swaying back and forth in the BART car as we jetted through the trans-bay tunnel.
But then, an epiphany– (rare occurrence in this digital era of life, where I’m so constantly consumed that thoughts don’t just occur with brilliance anymore)– if the footwear were swapped around, how would these folks asses me? I look at a 30-something woman wearing scrubs and reading on a kindle and immediately peg her as a hardworking, single mother who cares generously for her adoring children and provides transcendent wisdom to her younger siblings, wayward friends and desperate coworkers.
If she looked at me, would she see an insecure writer, wobbling along on sea legs in an industry she barely understands, with the stigma of being a high school dropout glaring like a bad tattoo from her forehead? Probably not.
But more critically– is that actually who, or all, I am? The answer might be no. The answer is definitely know.