(Written by a young American woman on a fellowship in India)
About a month ago, my house was broken in to as we slept. I had a friend in town that week, and she was sleeping in my room with me. She stayed up until 4am working, so they had a narrow window during which to come. We think one or two men came in through our balcony (jiggling the lock open), and then just rifled through all our stuff. They took my iPhone, my friend’s iPhone and laptop, my roommate’s iPhone and iPad, running shoes, DSLR…etc. Pretty impressive haul, I have to say. And they were kind enough to leave credit cards and passports.
It was jarring, threw off our whole week. But at the end of the whole thang, it was okay. I was less scared than I expected, and didn’t really feel threatened by the fact that it had happened. It took a long while to believe that it actually happened but I was never really that scared. More than anything, it was a reminder of my privilege and my status as a very noticeable outsider. Everyone in my neighborhood knows who I am and where I live. They probably know my schedules better than I do. They know that I have money – perhaps not much by American standards, but here I’m rich – and that I probably have nice stuff. And they’re right. Spending the money to replace the phone was an easy decision for me, yet it’s an amount that’s inconceivable for many people I work with. Nuts.
Anyway. Consequence of this has been much less connection to the internet, facebook, news, email, friends, texts. At first it was weird, and on occasion I’ve longed for it, but generally it’s been amazing. What a difference it makes to have to at least see where you are, instead of burying your face in your iPhone. Part of me wants to stay without a smartphone forever. It’s just so liberating (well, once I got used to it). There’s so much more time for calmness in my mind, for healthy, slow consideration of myself. Not the frenetic “OMG am I doing enough” that happens when perusing social media. Through it all, I’ve realized more and more that I’ve never really defined myself or my goals or my thoughts on my own terms. I’m always comparing to friends, their Facebook pages, their blogs, strangers’ blogs detailing their years in the peace corps in wherever. As of late I’ve had less of that “other” in my head, and it’s been wonderful.
Not having the intrusive “other,” or the dependence on those cursed little red notifications as validation for my “meaning” in the world / in other people’s lives gave that even more room to grow. I have to sit with my thoughts when I’m commuting (solid 3 hours a day, during which I usually can’t even read because of motion sickness/darkness) or flying/traveling. It’s been really good for me. Instead of stewing in self-doubt (often engendered by whatever I see on fb/instagram; or prompted by a lack of people texting/emailing/etc me), I’ve been dreaming about the future. In part that’s because I am so excited to return to some comforts – this has been hard, this India thing – but in part I believe it’s because I am seeing a future that is exciting and that just has me as the sole requirement in it. Not a specific man (boy), or career, or friend, or city. Just me. If I’d had my phone the past weeks, I think I would have allowed my mind to be pulled in a million different directions by whatever app/notification/fb-update/etc. I saw. I lack the self-discipline (at the moment) to stop my mind from running down those paths. Not having them available is absolutely wonderful for letting me truly consider the things I want, not what I’m supposed to want. It’s also allowed me to really flesh those out. Having less option to compare my present / desired future with those of others has further let me feel that my realities and dreams are valid and “cool” just because they’re mine. They don’t need the stamp of approval from someone else. Again, not to say that I don’t wander down the paths – I have wifi at home and usually at office – but I do it less often, and give myself more space to be self-centered (in, for now, a good way).
I feel like these are things that I should already have learned and internalized, but they’re not. I did “know” them in the past, as Pintrest-worthy quotes reaffirming my uniqueness and validity of my dreams, but I didn’t believe them. I didn’t discover them myself, or actually feel them to be true. I really hope that I can keep the feelings in my head.