Why I don’t use voicemail

I vaguely remember my first mobile phone, I think it was a Nokia that sat in my hand like a small brick. Prior to purchase of said brick I couldn’t see much point in being accessible at all times. However due to my itinerant lifestyle it was often impossible to get hold of me for work. This, after all, was a time in a dark, distant past before the Internet.

After a while my phone became a primary form of communication. Why make the effort to go and see friends when it was possible to text and tick that interaction off of my to-do list?

Fourteen years after that first mobile phone purchase I carry around a device that has access to more information than Bill Clinton did when he was president of the United States. I just counted and my smartphone contains more than 90 apps, many of which I fail to use or even know the purposes of. I suspect that some of those apps could distract me for hours, holding my interest when my interest would be best directed elsewhere.

Some days I’m tempted to throw my phone in the rubbish bin. Then I remember Uber, Whatsapp, Dropbox and, Evernote, all of which make my personal and business affairs a lot more fluid and organized when I choose to use them.

There’s one Application on my phone that I don’t use, and that’s voicemail.

For long periods of each day I prefer to switch my phone off entirely. If I’ve missed calls, so be it. The last thing anyone needs after working all day is a dozen messages to return.

Switching our phone off can come with many favourable consequences, two of which are, 1. Working without interruption. 2. I’m reminded of how relaxed life was prior to being connected to everyone and everything 24/7.

For all of the benefits of our connected world there are also many drawbacks, such as living perpetually half present to our environment and range of experiences.

Becoming a father was eye opening for many reasons, one of which was the awakening of my dulled senses. Sharing my sons’ experiences in contexts I had long taken for granted has reminded me to see, hear, touch, taste and smell in a more connected way. My boys don’t have iPhones or TV screen time (except for an hour at the weekends), which means that when playing in the garden, there is the mud, grass, bark, flowers, rocks and plants to be present to. When walking along the beach, there is only sand between toes, surf crashing, salty air and the gulls all around. At meal times, food is seen, smelled, tasted and played with, but with little other distraction. Like Buddhist masters, many kids are able to be present to the moment as long as there is no reason to take distracted sideways glances for incoming messages. When we have eyes to see and ears to hear, kids can be our greatest teachers in how to really appreciate life in each moment.

If life -as a series of moments- that has to be lived one small step at a time, isn’t it better that we are present to most of those moments? Living through a screen is only half living. If you don’t believe me, try only eating digital food images for a week.

I have no doubt that some people could happily live alone on an Island, just as long as they have a good Internet connection. But for most of us this would become no better than solitary confinement. The highest quality experiences are rarely via a handheld device, but rather in direct experience and relationships (to people, places and activities) that fire up our senses in ways that the digital world cannot.

How many of us switch off from alerts, news feeds, notifications, likes, texts, emails, voice mails and phone calls, just long enough to appreciate how such things are a filter to potentially more meaningful and valuable moments?

At the end of the day, every human shares from the same commodity pool – time

How we use our time reflects what we value most. But as Henry David Thoreau stated,

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.’

How much of your own life are you trading today in return for constantly being connected and ‘on’?

We’re unlikely to know until we switch off long enough to find out.

It’s time to stop writing and go watch the hummingbirds in my garden.