What A Dead iPhone Battery Taught Me About The Power And Pleasure Of Being Alone

Hungry, tired, and without a working phone, the author took himself out to dinner--and remembered seven simple, meaningful lessons for leading a better life.

I take my iPhone with me everywhere.

It never leaves my side--and as a self-prescribed IDIOT, it's always on. For some reason, I'm convinced that I should look at it every five minutes. It’s my adult pacifier that I can't live without, and as a result, I have a false sense of connectedness. I'm never alone because I’m always connected, always surfing, texting, and talking--and while I love Jony Ive’s design brilliance, I despise the dependence and control this device has on me.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday night when my flight landed at JFK. I reached for my iPhone and discovered the battery was dead. My anxiety level went through the roof. How was I going to check my email, voice mail, and texts? How was I going to contact the driver who was circling the airport waiting to pick me up? First World problems can be easily solved. I jumped in the cab line and headed into the city disconnected from the world at large.

Behold, I survived the 45-minute ride to the hotel without my phone and my social network. I checked in at 11 p.m., starving, and I grabbed a table for one at the hotel restaurant. I rarely eat alone and I make it a rule never to eat alone in New York. This was a sudden act of social bravery. As I sat at a candlelit table and stared out at all of the connected, happy, conversational couples and groups filling the air with chatter, I suddenly felt very alone and socially awkward. People don't eat alone in New York, so what does this say about me? I'm alone, I'm not interesting enough, and I'm certainly not talking on my dead phone so I can't look loved, important, or connected.

Overcoming the feelings of being alone and uncomfortable, I decided (or convinced myself) that I actually liked being at dinner alone and phoneless with no one to talk to or entertain, except myself. I ate dinner slowly, appreciating the tastes and textures more than usual, and I casually observed the crowd. I studied my surroundings and picked up on the moods and attitudes in the room. I became a cultural voyeur, a fly on the wall, and realized what a privilege it is to be alone for small periods of time to relax and reflect. I realized that I like myself just enough to take “me” out for dinner and have a conversation in my head, watch the world go by, and enjoy recharging my brain.

As I sat at the candlelit table, time seemed to slow down just a little. I felt a sense of calm that I don't normally feel when I'm eating with others, and I realized I could benefit from being alone and without technology a little more often. I also realized that being a cultural and operational voyeur is an experience that every executive could benefit from. Being in the field and seeing what real people experience is a must. The importance of alone time in a social setting can help to increase one's power of observation, critical thinking, and the ability to pay attention to the smallest of details.

Here are a few important benefits of a little alone time:

1. Time to be with just you

We depend on others for connection, inspiration, energy, and love most of the time. Spending time alone with your own thoughts is revitalizing. It's amazing the conversations you’ll start to have with yourself and the ideas that materialize as a result.

2. Time to be silent

The only time I’m silent is when I'm asleep or surfing. Silence is golden, especially when you're surrounded by a lot of talkers and constant ambient noise. Being silent can give you a sense of calm and satisfaction.

3. Time to be disconnected

Disconnecting from your phone means you pay attention to and appreciate the details of your surroundings, of the products you use and the service you receive.

4. Time to be uncomfortable

How often do you put yourself in an uncomfortable position? It’s a simple way to be comfortable within your discomfort.

5. Time to reflect

It's a great way to spend some time reflecting on where you are in life and what's most important to you.

6. Time to observe

There's nothing like observing everything going on around you--and making note of what you see.

7. Time to appreciate

You can be alone in a coffee shop, a restaurant, or on a mountaintop--but regardless of where you are, carve out regular alone time to reflect and appreciate what you have.

[Image: Flickr user Paul Hudson]

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6 Comments

  • Anthony Romano

    Get away from my phone? I call it back packing. back to basics, water shelter food and air. That is all we really need. Where a hot cup of tea is a luxury. Where worrying about what people think of our social or economic status is irrelevant because it is irrelevant to being happy, warm and safe. Everything else is materialism spoon fed through the idiot box called TV.

  • Fr Joseph Chai

    Love your article! Being a minister, administering to my 30 coleagues, I wil use some of your thoughts for our reflections. Despite being so caled 'spiritual people', we are no les caught up with using the ful bagage of gadgets! The feeling is mutual! Thanks for the sharing.

  • robbyGregg

    another aspect of "time to reflect" is "time to integrate", one being freed from dealing with the multiple, raw, diverse and rapid-fire stimuli that smartphones and social media impose on the mind, now being available to make sense of the events of the day, or to crunch down long-running issues.

    i especially like your "time to appreciate" point.

    and in your alone-ness, you will also be able to observe that some people around you with company will practically be alone because they will mostly be on their iPhones and crackberrys, right in front of each other.

  • expostfactoid

    There's nothing like observing everything going on around you--and making note of what you see.

    Yes, but without your phone, WHAT DO YOU MAKE THOSE NOTES ON!!! ;)

  • Katelyn

    +1

    Great post. I had a similar experience after I lost my phone a few months ago. I ended up deciding to detox as I waited for my new one to come, going without a smartphone for a week. Sounds like nothing, but as you said, the anxiety set in and I realized there's a lot more to life than 5 inches of screen.

    http://katelynsophia.com/post/...

  • Carlos

    Interestic article. But you are not and IDIOT. You just think everyone is watching you when you're alone.