I remember my very first smart phone. I was a little overwhelmed, and unsure I had any need for some of what it could do. Over time, I added apps that were useful to me, removed the ones that weren’t. I built bad habits that took my attention away from living people, right along with just about everyone I knew, and then many of us eased up off of that, returning to a more civil, emotionally connected life, engaging with my friends more deeply when we are together, and setting aside the distractions of devices – as much as I can figure out how. Some of us, of course, remain more fully attached to the devices that are so convenient… I did not see myself as one of those people. Then, last night my phone died. Battery ran down unattended in a busy moment during the work day, and peculiarly, efforts to revive it were… ineffective. At least initially. I got it charged, and powered it back on after work and… oh hell. My data is gone.

My data is gone. Well… shit.

Now, frankly, a calm adult “well, shit…” is not how that went down last night. There was a moment of pure panic, some agitated troubleshooting, and then… well, I fought off hysteria and tears, sort of, and vented over email to my traveling partner. That sounds grown-up-ish… right? He phoned immediately; he knows me. The sound of his reassuring voice undid my resolve to hold back the wave of strong emotion, and I fell completely apart – my data is gone!! It felt… personal. It felt terrifying. I felt… unrecognized by my phone. Only… that sounds kind of silly, and it didn’t feel at all silly. It felt entirely terrifying… two weeks of fitness progress… that was what stung most in the moment. He talked me down. Reminded me, rationally, calmly, that the progress itself isn’t in the phone, or the tracker, or a spreadsheet. He talked me through calming breaths. I was okay, and it wasn’t a disaster – however disastrous it felt – and it would be okay. I would just have to start over.

Oh. Right. Begin again. Just begin again. Okay… I can do that. I know to do that. It’s a thing I do. And breathe. I’ll breathe, too, that helps. It helps a lot, the panicked infrequent gulps of air I was surviving on weren’t really helping.

I set up my phone, again, frustrated that wouldn’t restore from the backup, either. My phone is not enjoying the Marshmallow upgrade. It is what it is. Each time I open another app I rely on, and find that my password isn’t saved, my data isn’t there, and the app is functionally fairly useless without being set up all over again I experience another wave of frustration… and grief… and then anger that I’m grieving over data. Then, finally, I let all that go, and let myself sleep.

This morning my phone is just a phone. There are no tears. The anger, the hysteria, the sense that all is lost, have dissipated in the night. It’s convenient to have a phone that has GPS and email. This one is no longer my ‘back up brain’ and I am once more painfully aware why there is still value in hardbound books, handwritten letters, and moments of conversation with friends face to face; data lacks substance. Data is easily lost. Data can be destroyed. Data is not memory. Data is not living. Data, most importantly, is not identity. Hell… much of what I consider to identify me, doesn’t really. So much of it is changeable or arbitrary. I find myself back to the question lingering in my thoughts recently, “who am I?”… I know one thing with fair certainty, I am not a phone. 🙂

I’m still irritated every time I look at the fucking thing. (This too will pass.)

I sip my coffee thinking, for a time, of all the ways in which I may suffer if suddenly – for example – there were a global power failure, and just… nothing that operates on electricity. Well, that’s the most catastrophic loss of data I can imagine, honestly, so that’s where my thoughts go. I’d be okay, for most values of okay, and the data itself would be far from my first concern. When did our data become so important? When did my phone become such a powerful presence in my experience – hell, for that matter, when did it become a fucking “presence”?? There are things to consider here, and one of them is untethering my self from my phone more completely. Maybe starting with my camera… It’s something to consider.

Some of life’s curriculum is disruptive and painful. (Some of it only feels that way.)  Only a very small portion is catastrophic, and few of us ever know real catastrophe, and then only rarely – my phone’s untimely demise definitely does not count among life’s catastrophic events. I woke feeling grateful for a supportive partner, willing and able to help me keep things in perspective. I woke feeling grateful to be working again, and for the resources to repair or replace things of value when they fail. I woke feeling grateful that my own fleeting memory, however it may fail me, is “built-in” and doing a pretty splendid job, generally. I woke feeling grateful that my experience is still my experience, and feeling grateful to be without pain. I am okay right now… and a phone is just a phone.

Well, sure. This.

Well, sure. This.

Today is a good day for perspective, and a good day for gratitude. Today is a good day to put down the phone. 🙂