There’s that moment when you switch off airplane mode on your phone and the only message you see in the upper-corner, coverage indicator area is “Searching…”
It’s the moment when you're about to reconnect from whatever escape you were just on. The moment you return from whatever forced you to disconnect in the first place, be it from going to a movie, hiking or camping in the mountains, or maybe actually being on an airplane.
For me, it’s the moment I switch from the relative calm of searching for myself in the real world, back to the unending search for signals and distractions in digital world.
I write a lot about distraction and disconnection here, not because I’ve got it all figured out, but because it’s an issue I struggle with, especially with finding a balance between the two.
It’s way too easy for me to get on my phone and spend hours on mindless tasks, and when I say hours it's no exaggeration. One Google search easily turns into ten, twenty, thirty. One article turns into a clickhole of largely meaningless and depressing news information gathering. A momentary check of Facebook quickly turns into an hour of “just scroll a little bit more!” Most days, being on my phone is the first thing I do in the morning, the last thing I do at night, and the thing I do many times in between to pass the time.
All of this is just a way I trick my mind into thinking it’s being productive, when in reality most of what I’m doing is entirely inconsequential. Worse, these are all things that take away from the time I could be doing something real, like writing this blog, or hiking, or connecting with friends, or applying for jobs, or calling my mother.
So when I disconnect, it’s for a purpose. When I disconnect, I do it so I can go searching instead.…
Searching for mindfulness.
Searching for my thoughts.
Searching for meaning.
Searching for me.
Not long ago I came back down the mountain from an excellent camping trip with a group of some of my closest friends. When we got close to the valley floor I switched off airplane mode and immediately began staring at that “Searching…” message in the upper corner, intently waiting for all those bars and signals to escort me back to the modern world.
But after a 10 second attempt, it gave me the “No Service” message instead of bars. I was disappointed, of course. I was eager to post to Instagram and Facebook to share with you all the majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir’s Range of Light.
But then I remembered “Searching…”
When my phone was in airplane mode that weekend, instead of searching for a signal the whole time, I was doing the searching instead. It allowed me to read and spend quiet time with my own thoughts. It allowed me to share my love of camping with friends who hadn’t been in ages. It allowed me to watch as those friends’ eyes opened to the lessons of comfort, distraction, and expectation that come from the remote camping experience. It allowed us all to be present with each other in a way we’ve never been before, to bond in ways you can’t predict or replicate.
When I let my device do the searching, that means I’m searching for a way out. An excuse to be somewhere else. To add yet another method of distraction to my over-complicated world.
When I do the searching myself, that means I’m finally living.
I switched my phone back into airplane mode. This was the last moment of disconnection I would have for a while. It was our last moments together without all those distractions. Our last moments in the real world. And besides, I didn’t have a signal anyway.
Phone coverage will come and go, but what are you really searching for?
Are you searching for a constant digital connection using a combination of letters and pictures, or a perhaps more intermittent but deeper and more direct connection with those you actually care about?
Are you searching for a following of 1,000 on Instagram, or a following of 10 real friends who actually mean something to you?
Are you searching for more “likes,” or real love?