In the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hank’s character Sam has some trouble falling asleep. When I visited Seattle earlier this year I had no trouble sleeping at all: in fact, napping was actually my tourist activity of choice. But during my visit I had another precious thing stolen from me — my phone. For three days I found myself wandering the streets of an unfamiliar city without the magical tool that serves as my map, my dictionary, my phone book, and my second set of eyes. As a millennial in today’s tech-obsessed society, I have become more than dependent on my smartphone. I went to Seattle hoping to find out what life is like on the west coast but ended up finding out what it takes to survive in a world without a constant connection to my smartphone.
Other than sightseeing, experiencing life in another time zone, and checking out a Seattle Storm game, my agenda was pretty open. Selfishly I had a few other goals—getting a Frappuccino at the first Starbucks, capturing a great Space Needle selfie, and finding the best Snapchat geo-filter in the city.
After a quick six hour flight to Seattle, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, gathered my luggage, and took an Uber to my hotel. Once I finally arrived in my room Thursday evening I plugged my phone in, set a wake-up alarm, and collapsed in bed. Hours later, I awoke to my ringtone and ordered room service and got ready for the day ahead. After a nice relaxing Friday afternoon to myself, I moseyed down to the hotel lobby and got an Uber to the Seattle Storm’s home court, Key Arena. Jumbotrons across the arena told us fans to document our time at the game using the hashtag #ThankYouLJ, a nod to retiring WNBA great Lauren Jackson. I decided “why not join the conversation?” and shared a picture with the recommended hashtag. Little did I know how many issues this routine action would cause.
Below please see the Instagram that killed my phone:
After posting the above picture my phone turned black. My phone was at ~70% battery, why would it just die like this? Though I was frustrated I wasn’t too concerned—my trusty, yet somewhat rusty, iPhone 5s had failed me in the past, but it had always pulled through when needed most. It had survived days in a freezer, a night outside in the rain, and countless falls onto pavement—there was no way that simply posting a picture on Instagram would lead to its ultimate downfall. I assumed that my phone just needed some time on the charger and it would be back in good shape.
But it wasn’t.
From that moment on every aspect of my trip became more difficult. After the game ended I walked out to the street and—wait for it—hailed a cab. Without my phone, I couldn’t use Uber, Lyft, or even Fastn. I couldn’t Google the Seattle public transportation schedule and figure out which bus would get me close to my hotel. I had to raise my hand and hail a cab, something that I would never do if my phone was working.
Twenty minutes later, a guesstimate as without my phone I had no real way to actually tell time, I got into the back of a cab, immediately asked for the driver’s card fearing that I may need to use his services again, and traveled to my hotel. I called down to the front desk requesting a wake-up call (because I could no longer use my phone’s alarm) and charged my phone overnight. But in the morning my phone was still dead.
This left me at a crossroads: what do I do now? This phone predicament left me disconnected in a city that I knew nothing about. I could either go to a Sprint store and pray that they had a solution to my problem, or I could just go with the flow and continue my trip without a phone. Every generation before me had successfully traveled without connected devices—I was sure I could survive. My trip to Seattle was just for a few more days, I didn’t want to waste any of my limited time jumping through hoops in hopes of finding a solution. So, after quickly using my laptop to rant on Facebook, I continued my vacation:
Prepared to take on the day, I took a notebook from my bag and researched all of the tourist spots that I was interested in checking out. Using my laptop, I took note of address, phone numbers, and each location’s general area of the city. I ordered tickets to a few touristy activities, but without a phone to show the tickets, I had to ask the hotel front desk to print the tickets for me.
Without a phone I felt like my senses were heightened. I never realized how often I looked at my phone in passing, but now that I wasn’t able to, I was forced into being an active observer. In the cab I kept my head up, looked out the window, and really soaked in my surroundings. But still I felt a bit down. I am a very social person, and traveling alone without a phone had me feeling very lonely. It was didn’t help that I would no longer be able to share updates about my travels with my friends and family easily.
During the day on Saturday I decided to check out Chihuly’s Garden and Glass museum. Words can’t explain how truly breathtaking Chihuly’s museum is. I found it incredible that the beautiful art he and his team created was so low-tech, using glassblowing methods that have been around for centuries. Without a phone to distract me I was completely focused on the exhibits. After checking out the glass museum for what turned out to be two hours I got in line for a trip to the top of the Space Needle. And by line, I mean LINE. It took about an hour and a half to get to the top of the Space Needle.
Imagine a 1.5 hour wait where you are by yourself with no phone and nothing to entertain you.
I seemed to be in my own personal circle of hell, but miraculously was able to use an ancient technique to pass the time: talking.
While waiting, I struck up a conversation with the people in line next to me, a married couple whose names were Hannah and Taylor. We talked non-stop until we reached the front of the line, discussing everything from our favorite vacation spots to discussing what life was like in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Merrimac, Massachusetts. Given that I have a gift for gab, I even strategically stopped talking a few times to make sure that I had found two people that actually wanted to chat, and each time Hannah and Taylor struck up conversation again! I had been in a rut up until this point—feeling varying degrees of hopeless and helpless without my phone. In today’s society, even when people are together, they are curiously alone. Look around any mall, amusement park, or concert—it may seem that a large group of people has come together, but upon closer review a majority of attendees are staring into their phones, completely unaware of their surroundings as they post, Tweet, snap, and text. Meeting Hannah and Taylor reminded me of the value that human, face-to-face interaction with strangers has. At the end of the night we even exchanged email addresses and they waited with me until I was able to grab a cab!
Life without a phone had some low points:
- At one point I was so lost that I had to use a landline behind a Chipotle cash register to call a cab. I soon found out that I was only 3 blocks away from my hotel. Who knew?
- I used a paper map.
- I had to ask a random fan at a Seattle Storm game to not only take a photo of me but also email it to me so I could have a copy.
- I learned that there is nothing more difficult than capturing the perfect selfie with a wide-lens camera.
- Several times I had to ask strangers for directions or recommendations.
My time in Seattle put me in some interesting situations, and though I enjoyed my trip, come Sunday I was ready to go home. Upon arriving at the Seattle airport, I kid you not, my phone came back to life out of nowhere. After days of darkness, my phone vibrated and gave me a snapchat notification. I laughed, thinking “oh, how different my trip would be if I had my phone.”
Things would have been different, but not necessarily better. Though my disconnected life was at times awkward and uncomfortable, overall I am actually happy that I was phoneless in Seattle. There’s no doubt that the technological advances of the past decades have improved our overall quality of life. We are more connected than ever before; we constantly have access to almost all of the information that has ever existed. But oftentimes we Millennials don’t realize how distracted we really are. While we are connected to the internet, our smartphones may actually be leaving us disconnected from what is happening immediately around us. I have grown accustomed to watching events through my camera phone; I have grown dependent on apps and constantly feel the need to use social media to either share what I am doing or learn what my friends are doing. Life without a phone reminded me of the value of taking in moments as they happen, not living them behind a lens or through a screen. Traveling while disconnected allowed me to truly focus on my surroundings and enjoy my trip while it was happening, not just for the 24 hours it would have been on my snap story. Phones surely improve our quality of life, but at the same time, my time in Seattle can remind us all that it is important to occasionally go phone-free and live your experiences for yourself.