What happened when I took 4 Days off my smartphone and the internet altogether
After working through close to 2 weeks — travelling, sleeping late and facing the challenges that come with each day — despite my ill heath which was characterized by body weakness, catarrh phlegm (yuck, sorry), headache, Procold and something in the family of Amalar (malaria drugs), it was very clear I needed a shutdown and I was going to mean it this time, for the first time ever.
November was supposed to be a leave from work for me and as if I knew that was not quite that realistic, I labelled it a partial leave, which was not a bad idea for a first leave ever. So many first-evers here already. Truly the month had been much of longer night sleeps, out-of-office work, a few trips (not fun trips though) and a retreat which was more of a reunion with a Bible study group I had been a part of in my undergraduate years. But then I needed more, apparently.
When the thought came of a total break off communication and access, it was scary but I knew it was possible. I had a trip planned to visit my mum and I had committed to rest as much as possible but the thought of dropping my smartphone with my assistant only came an hour to my departure. Yet I went ahead with the thought. Everyone was surprised. I ensured I had left before my partner was aware. My “torch-light” phone, with my major SIM card was the closest I would be to mobile communication over the following 4 days. Trust me that was scary. Usually, I tether internet from my smartphone to my laptop, so this really meant I was going off grid. Given that my mum’s internet subscription is simply for her WhatsApp, that was also never going to be an alternative.
I began to feel naked right after departure. In a moment I was holding a snack in my right hand, and reached out for my pocket with the left to bring out my phone and do the usual complementary act — swipe through stuff. I felt my pocket had been picked.
I arrived at my mum’s place and soon we had to take a picture of something. She expected me to use my “big phone” and when I told her I didn’t come with it, she simply doubted the explanation and teased that I had probably lost the phone “as usual”.
That evening in my mum’s place was unusual. I would usually be stuck with my phone, glancing up to meet her eyes from moment to moment as I try to assure her I was in the conversation. This time I was present and connected better with the completeness of the story, asked questions, laughed truly to the funny parts as opposed to I-am-with-you giggles. She had told me about a guy who had just opened a Shawarma shop opposite the house. She had not had one before and was a bit curious. Talk about a curiosity I was eager to quench. I took a walk down, exchanged pleasantries with the dude, who was a really cool guy indeed, placed my order as his “15 minutes please” began to count. I was quite pessimistic about what would be the quality of the Shawarma but I knew for certain she would have none to compare with and we will be fine.
15 minutes… would have been say, two videos of Williams Uchemba and one from Lasisi Elenu on Instagram while I would have responded to Bolaji, Ope and Tunji on WhatsApp. I would also have checked my Gmail notification and moved on upon seeing it’s the daily YCover mail of which I would only be a Cc: recipient.
No internet. So I had 15 minutes… of asking and knowing more about him. He spoke about how he came to the town with a big company, got laid off, then thought about what to do next, identified there were people who could afford Shawarma in the area but no supply, then travelled back to Lagos to learn to make it; of how he now shuffles the work with pursuing his Masters Degree in a nearby university. I was amazed and observed his smile all through his story, even as he chopped up the pieces of several delicious things mashed up and packed within the sheets. I had for the first time paid attention to the process. We talked so much about several other things that when I took time to recount all to my mum, which in itself was a miracle, she wondered how I was able to know that much within such a short while. Trust my mum to be emotional. She was bothered that he got laid off. If Shawarma was a daily need, she would have become a passionate customer of his.
I called my brother, JGold on the phone, for the first time in a long while. It wasn’t abnormal that we don’t talk on the phone. My dad would always ask if we talk on the phone regularly and I would reply that we communicate everyday via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. He would always say “okay”, not-quite-approvingly, like Jay-Z in Story of OJ. This time we actually spoke and there was a tone and originality to the “E kaa le” as opposed to a not-so-alive “Good evening bro”. We actually laughed and it felt way better than LOL or even ROTFL.
Mum and I talked through the preparation and consumption of a very hot Amala with okra and fish. We had tea afterwards. This time it seems she had finally gotten used to not complaining as I took endless scoops of her powdered milk. She just looked on. We continued to talk, then placed calls to my older siblings. They were shocked to hear my voice on the phone, without prior information of my visit to my mum. My sister’s husband further encouraged me to visit mum more often as I was the closest to her geographically.
Work will never leave me you know so I still had to leave her to take some long calls. Bolaji ‘will not let my shut-down shine’.
Friday morning was special. I didn’t check WhatsApp messages or look for ‘her’ status update (‘her’, like ‘her’, not mum). We had a morning devotion in which my body and soul was present. I read ‘Open Heavens’ not as the usual boring script I needed to complete so I could go catch up with mails and to-dos. I actually got ‘Daddy G.O’s point on honoring God with our tithes and offering, not because he needed it but as a simple act of us giving him back from what he had given us. Hmmmm. That made more sense than some “curse” allegation I had heard about on social media. I never bothered to confirm it or not though.
I had a full proper day of presence with her, with 3 complete meals that I cannot over-emphasize. I can’t recall the last time I took time, at 3 different times in one blessed day of the Lord to eat from say, Bibi’s Kitchen or visit Lady-B.
I spoke with my sister on her upcoming wedding ceremony. We spoke about several things as I downed an extra piece of chicken, without prior permission, alongside a cup of hot tea that was on another scoop scale on my own terms. Mummy would let me do as I wish. She wouldn’t even let me clean a dish. She needed me to enjoy this unusual shutdown rest. I got up to some draft on my PC. I was writing some more copy for an ongoing website project with a friend. Mum began to talk about something. I closed the lid of my PC, because really it all just seemed that I had enough time. With internet, I would be in the sea of stuff that would not end. Hence there was never enough time. Here I had one particular draft to do, with nothing else really that I could think about at that moment. Great life if you ask me. Friday night I took time to pray. It was a great feeling unlike I had felt in a long time. I paced up and down the kitchen reciting Proverbs 3: 5,6,7 which I was trying to memorize. I was suddenly a ‘child of God’. I suddenly had time to reflect. Upon reflection, I had found a desire for the things that really do matter to me.
I woke up on Saturday to updates on the so much progress my team had made on key projects that were closing in my absence. I suddenly felt like an accomplished man. Delegation was a difficulty for me in the past and now the house was only waxing stronger in my absence. I really felt good, and privileged for the kind of great people I had on my team. I sent out text messages to some of them as I thought about their awesomeness, one after the other. It was glad to read some replies. On of the replies read “Boss am I being fired?”. Another wrote “is this message for me?” I would have thought I did these things on a normal, like, I appreciated people since I really do value their immense work. Apparently it came out a bit awkward. What was different? I was in a sense of my life that was calmer than the usual tempo of things. I really was in a state that allowed me to value and appreciate the things and people that matter, a state that I would gladly repeat over and over. In the midst of constant and unending stuff, it is easier to miss out on the things that matter the most. It was a good time to watch, not by supervision, but from outside the window, and to see more clearly the greatness and capability that lies within the team at FourthCanvas.
I must confess however that I did attempt to replace WhatsApp with SMS, which was some sort of a reincarnation of 2012. I did a lot of texting that year and there is a reason I would easily recollect that. Never mind. The number of times I had to recharge with 737 was crazy. I felt the value of instant messaging the more but then I also only texted when and what mattered.
I wish I could tell my entire experience without missing any important detail, but trust me this is not it. You would probably have to talk to me in person to get that. After all, nothing beats real-life conversations. Don’t come swiping through your feed though.
I have learnt, trust me, that there is a life on the other side of mobile notifications and it is a wonderful one.
(I wrote this article on November 20, 2017).