It always boils back down to Paris.
Last Fashion Week, I was seated at Café de Flore in St. Germain de Pres while I embarked on a solitary game of Guess Which Tables House Americans. As is always the case when the contingency of Americans in Paris outweighs that of the Parisians in Paris, Flore becomes the centriole that shelters the misplaced. This particular round was almost too easy to plausibly call a game (which infers challenge) because there was one salient indication that demarcated the Americans from the French: the former — all of them — had their phones out. The latter did not.
The distinction should have seemed innocuous, but the moment I looked down to my right and saw my phone, lit up, sitting next to a side order of haricot verts, I felt ashamed. Here I was, dining among hundreds, in Paris, and I still needed the safety portal that keeps me perennially connected at a short arm’s length.
When I got back to New York I conducted a marginal social experiment. For one week, between the hours of 6PM and bedtime — I would abandon my cell phone.
On Monday night I was supposed to meet my friend Jessica for dinner at 6:30. I got there to the restaurant at 6:25, waited for her until 7:15, then ate alone and left. When I got home at 8PM, I had a text message postmarked 6:15 that read, “Not sure I can make it! Can we push to 9?”
This was infuriating not because I had to eat alone (that part was delightful — I was forced to entertain myself using only a glass of wine and my own mind) but because in the age of constant communication, the sanctity and art of a platonic date is lost. You don’t have plans anymore until they’re seated across from you, communicating putatively face to screen.
Tuesday and Wednesday nights I went home straight from work which left me with approximately four recreational hours to talk to my roommate, who also happens to be the man I one time solemnly swore to have sex with exclusively for the rest of my life. The exercise reminded me how boring he truly is and that was awkward. (Lol, JK.)
Interestingly, I was not picking my eyebrows as frequently — purportedly because I was not focusing razor sharp on the tiny little screen impairing my vision with each squint that obliterated the skin on my nose.
And any time I spent in the public domain between Monday and Friday was time ripe with opportunity to trip the plethora of face-down passersby, focused so intently on the small devices they held, if, as the aphorism suggests, the cows were to come home, they’d have no damn clue. I knew that just a week earlier, I had been one of them and immediately understood exactly why my dad hates walking around with me.
On Thursday, I met a work acquaintance-cum-friend for a drink. The deal was similar to Monday’s in that we’d set a time to meet (7PM) and when I left my office at 6:45, I didn’t take my phone. She was there when I arrived and we co-drank a bottle of red wine which is an important detail to share, because just around the glass that would conclusively polish the bottle off — maybe this was an omniscient revelation, maybe it was the Malbec — I decisively recognized what the warnings always mandate: that my interdependence had heretofore impaired my ability to thoughtfully socialize.
Prior to the cleanse of sorts, I’d earnestly begun believing that I was either spending time with people who are not interesting at all (encouraged by an ardent and enduring desire to check my phone) or that I, myself, was losing the social curt and savvy that matters (turns out answering a text message with impressive immediacy is not as impressive as maintaining engagement — real engagement — in the conversation looking at you).
Without wondering whether anyone was e-mailing, or texting, or calling, or @-ing me, I had nothing to do but be where I was. Which is exactly where I’d like to remain.
Of course, the moment the exercise ended, my phone and I were more or less married again. That hasn’t since changed but the good news is, I’m headed back to Paris later this month.
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