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January 17, 2014

Facetime

Losing internet access for a week reveals much to be gained.

I was addicted to her. Where I led, she followed. You could find us together in class, Mansueto, the gym, a party, the dining hall, and even on the endangered date. I would fall asleep with her in my hands, and wake up to her beckoning. Emptiness overwhelmed me in her absence and even then I felt the phantom of her weight, her comforting quivers in my barren palm. I would anxiously wait for her to illuminate, and dance, as these moments carried a touch of intimacy and the sentiment of being needed.

So upon discovering that I would be separated from my beloved—my iPhone—for seven days, I was disenchanted to say the least. I was spending a week of winter break on a Carnival cruise. And as my aunt (rightly) did not want to spend 75 cents per minute on connection fees, I would be call-less, text-less, web-less, computer-less, Facebook-less, Twitter-less, Instagram-less, and seemingly life-less for seven days at sea.

As a Modern Orthodox Jew, from the time the sun sets on Fridays to the rising of three stars on Saturday nights, I “unplug”—that I’ve learned to manage. But a week in the middle of the Atlantic with only my aunt, to whom I don’t exactly relate on the whole Gilmore Girls, Rory-Lorelai level, seemed cruel and unusual, especially sans communication devices.

On the second night of the cruise I bumped into two brothers with whom I had lunched earlier. In one of the florid dining halls, two boys from Cumberland, Maryland had retold miracles they’d heard of in this world and probed why I don’t believe in the trinity, all while eating French fries.

“How was the club?” I asked later that night as we stood before velvet red ropes guarding the ship’s discothèque.

They exchanged impish laughs. “It was great!” one chirped. “We danced with this 45-year-old. She’s amazing and was surrounded by her two hot daughters!” I said a brief passage from Psalms and prayed the cougar wasn’t my aunt with the attractive women in their late twenties assigned to our dinner table.

iPhone withdrawal became the least of my worries. I made my way into the club, down the spiral stairs studded with neon upper body sculptures, to find a Flash Dance—a dance floor of colorful florescent squares topped with pulsating bodies. The figures surrounded one woman with her eyes shut, arms flailing, and hips thrusting one beat off from Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” The music changes and she proceeds to hop on one foot, holding the other leg at a clean 90 degrees.

“Look at your aunt go!” my friend yelled over the music. “I wish I could be as free as her. She doesn’t care about anyone, she’s just doing her own thing and people love it. ” Another young man approached my aunt for a dance.

Indeed there was something beautiful in my aunt's blithe movements, in her strength to throw quotidian concerns into the sea and to truly savor the moment. More religiously observant than she is, I was not going to grab a man and dance, but I did take this image of her carefree dancing to heart, and strived to capture her spirit with the help of my electronic diet.

My aunt's ability to live in the moment inspired me to do the same, to seize opportunities slipping between my technologically haunted fingers. Subsequently, onboard I wrote something which has quietly faded under the heavy mass of “tweeting,” “poking,” “texting,” “sexting,” and “snap chatting,” we do daily: a love letter. I was able to actually long for someone, to feel his absence by not being constantly reminded of his whereabouts on my newsfeed or inbox.

It’s not that we’ve stopped writing. We write incessantly—not to our one true loves, but to our expanding network of friends turned spectators and spectators turned friends. We write not from the bottom of our hearts, but with the acumen of fast writers, communicating with abbreviations and lonely letters. We write to create an “online presence”, in a meta-spatial realm. We write so our words seem blasé, and if we want to show emotion we resort to emoticons. Smoothly surfing on the infinite ocean of words that were once only whispered in a familiar ear has lowered the value of each verb, noun, and adjective.

If the whole world is a stage, then the World Wide Web must be a movie set, featuring man playing the part of his online persona.

I realized how dependent I was on the power of having every answer with a tap of my Google-savvy finger. I realized that I didn’t need to sustain the constant information high on the latest news supplied by friends and the world to be happy. I also realized I was dangerously addicted to myself, and my self-opinion was highly dependent on how many likes my pictures and posts generated. Even the iPhone symbolized my selfishness—it was all about the “I.” But what about you, him, and her—the Other?

Slowly, the discomfort grew comfortable. Unable to turn to my phone in awkward moments, I learned to hear what nature’s awkwardness was trying to say about myself and others.

In line at Starbucks or walking down the street, I would usually be clicking away instead of locking eyes with strangers or striking up a conversation with the reader of that interesting book in front of me. Regard our own real-life plot twist—those seconds hanging on mystery, when contact was feeble and information wasn’t reposed before us on a silver platter. The world has grown smaller and life easier, thanks to today’s technology, but perhaps it has also diluted life’s enigmas, drowning romance along with it.

I spoke to others sans a third party: they were present, with voices, with emotions, with smells and all. Thus, the greatest gift was that instead of screens, I saw the clef de voûte of Emmanuel Levinas’ ethical philosophy: faces.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite or antisocial; I’m still a high-tech girl living in a high-tech world. However, downtime from the world in high-def made me more mindful of the price we pay for our hyper-connectivity: In choosing to over-share our lives, we run the risk of forgetting to live them.

Eliora Katz is a first-year in the College.

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