It’s Sunday morning at your local coffee shop. You forgot to plug your phone last night and left it at home to charge, grabbed a book and walked over. You sit nestled into the window seat, finish a few pages of your book, and suddenly remember that shirt you saw the ad for the other day and meant to look up. You reach for your phone, forgetting you left it. You peek over your book and see a couple seated together, both with their heads down, staring at their screens. You see the mother with a stroller, texting, as her toddler watches youtube on a knockoff iPad. The older man sitting at the table across from you scrolls through the news.
Our visual landscape is dominated by faces in phones. It seems all too rare to see the old man reading his newspaper, the woman smoking a cigarette, leaning up against a wall and having a think, or the businessman enjoying a brief moment, eyes closed, basking in the sun.
Laura and I have never had international plans on our cellphones. When we obediently put our phones in Airplane Mode before taking off for foreign lands, that toggle stays on for the entirety of our trip. Sure, we miss a few conveniences like always having the right directions or the ability to fire off a quick text that we’re running 10 minutes late. But without service, our brainwaves shift. Days get a little longer. We become more a part of our surroundings.
I’m no statistician, but get outside of the States and the world’s major cities, and there sure seems to be far fewer people glued to their phones. It’s arresting, at first, to see communities spending their Sunday mornings as they have for generations — shuffling a deck between hands, licking their finger to turn the page of the paper, throwing a pétanque ball, or feeding a stray cat.
2020 has put our devices in our hands more than ever before. Between the constant stream of breaking news and the fact that for many of us, our screens are our only way to safely catch up with our friends and family. When borders open back up and I’m once again clicking over to Airplane Mode as I make sure my seatback and tray table are in their upright and locked position, I’ll savor having my phone be little more than a paperweight as I sip my first doppio once I land. There’s a vast world beyond the confines of my 5-inch screen. I’ll settle into the timelessness of the comings and goings of the town square — the grandmother accidentally calling her grand-kid by her own child’s name, the families dressed in their Sunday best on the way to church, the preteen wearing his dad’s hat holding his younger sister’s hand as they pick out a cheese from the cheesemonger, and the dog sleeping in a sunbeam next to the entrance of the cathedral. Perhaps even at home, Sundays are best enjoyed on Airplane Mode.