Week 3: Smart Phones
In the United States, it’s not unusual to see smartphones everywhere. Teachers use them for interactive activities, the person you pass by on the street is calling their mom, kids play games on them, and people take breathtaking photos with them. For better or for worse – they’re all around us. As you’ve been abroad and adapted to a new culture, several pieces of your life have inevitably changed. Have you noticed a change in how people use their smartphones? Are they as common in the place you’ve chosen to study as they are in the States? If so, is there a different etiquette when it comes to using smartphones? Are you using your phone more or less than you were at home? Why? Have you taken any pictures with your phone that you think are particularly fascinating? Tell us about your experience with phones since you’ve been away.
Like in the spaces I inhabit in the US, I see smartphones everywhere in Geneva. Smartphones are the only kind of phones here (is there even another kind?) One difference between the spaces I occupy in the US and those here in Geneva is that there are more iPhones in the US. Here, I have seen more non-iPhone smartphones.
One of my favorite functions of smartphones is the camera. On a hike up Mont Salève, we stopped a few times to take pictures. I’ve included a picture I took of a dog, and you can see a classmate had the same idea! The phone stands out from the earthy background because of its perfect shape and shiny surface, but it also blends in as the tree branches are mirrored onto its touchscreen.
Initially, I think that iPhones don’t really belong in nature because going on a hike is a break from the hectic, modern, digital world that smartphones represent. Then, I’m reminded that using these devices the right way can actually enhance an experience in nature. Taking pictures helps me remember, and memory is an important part of who we are, so I’m thankful for this function on my phone. I’m grateful for all the memories I’m making abroad and that I can capture them—in nature and elsewhere—to relive this time in my life once it’s passed.
I had a very interesting relationship with phones during my time abroad. As American phone providers lock iphones so foreign sims cannot be entered, my program gave me a water damaged burner phone for the duration of my time. To say flip phone was generous, because it certainly did not flip, and was essentially a fat rectangle with buttons. I also did not have wifi in my homestay and my smartphone (used as an ipod/ camera) was unable to connect to the program house’s wifi. As a result, I remained pretty disconnected with life outside of my immediate circle there. I NEVER was able to check Snapchat, and only Facebook and Instagram occasionally. However, it allowed me to not have FOMO as I simply didn’t care what was happening at Colgate. Friday nights were passed with peace without being curious to which party or social gathering back in Hamilton I was missing out on. I developed strong relationships with the students on my program and especially my host family. After my 7:30 curfew each night, I came inside to play cards or make silly videos with Tenzin. I went to sleep no later than 9pm and woke up everyday feeling fresh and appreciative of the people and places around me. It was certainly a positive for my mental health, and often find myself wishing for that inner peace that it brought me.
The day of the Las Vegas shooting, we were in rural Humla, the most undeveloped district of Nepal in the upper Western corner of the country. We heard through another person on the program who had received information that there was a shooting in Las Vegas and it was the largest in history. That was all we had. I remember stumbling out of the wood house to sit on a smooth rock outside where I had to remember the long set of numbers to punch in before my mom’s number. I was sitting out there hysterically feeling so disconnected and unable to get more information, even though I was desperate to know if anyone I knew or loved had been affected. Through a lot of rings and the eventual 8 second lag, my mom finally picked up and was able to tell me through extremely spotty coverage that everyone was okay. I ran back to the homestay in the mountains where the family and the 3 other students on my program who were staying there were having dinner. I managed to choke out the news, when a fellow student on the program started having a panic attack. Her sister and her boyfriend were staying in Las Vegas attending the country festival that the shooting happened at. The rest of the night was a blur of emotions. My classmate was unable to reach her family as the service in the area cut out. We all huddled together on the blanket that was laid out for us to sleep and cried softly trying to support our friend and the uncertainty that was rampant in the situation. The next morning, she learned that everyone was okay, thankfully, but I will never forget the emotions of laying together in a shrine room in a village with a population of around 100, unable to reach our loved ones back in the US.
“Wherever you go, there you are” is a slogan that has captured many in the field of mindfulness meditation. For this discussion regarding phones, however, I think modifying that quote to something such as, “Wherever you go, there goes your phone also” would be more fitting. People today are taking their phones everywhere—even into places where phones have not traditionally been taken (at the dinner table, underwater, etc). Nevertheless, my phone was with me everywhere during my travels: it served as a resource for personal health data, a vault for payment information, a library for academic information, a navigator to find my way, a photographer to document my travels, and a consultant for safety instruction. It would be an understatement to say that I relied heavily on my phone during my travels, but traveling abroad in Scotland did result in some changes to my phone usage.
Given the above, I can say with certainty that I did not use my phone overall as much as I usually do back in the United States. Perhaps that can be explained by the fact that I was in a different social sphere where I simply was not involved in the activities of which I usually am a part. While I did use my phone to communicate with people in Scotland and back home, the communication was less frequent than it is at home, since I was not around my normal crew. Practically, I was also using a lot of time to see the city of Edinburgh and the nation of Scotland, sample different restaurants, go to the gym, and, of course attend various classes. So even though I was abroad, it is not like my phone habits, or the phone habits of the Scottish people, were significantly different abroad compared to home.
Also with certainty, I can also say that there were, perhaps, two key areas in which I used my phone much more than I would normally, even if—overall—I was using my phone to a lesser degree. The first of those areas was photography: when I was abroad, I wanted to document all my travels with photographic evidence. Given the general ease of classes, I had much time to explore Scotland and build an album of my adventures. One picture from that album is featured below (captured on iPhone SE) which features what was my most pleasant journey to Scotland’s Isle of Skye. The photo was taken around sunset, as we were hiking deep into the mountains where we reached these series of pools of water, referred to as the fairy pools. These are large pools of water are rumored to be a haven for fairies. While I cannot say I witnessed any of those on my trip, I did manage to maneuver into one of the pools without getting wet and capture a rather beautiful picture of the Scottish sunset (featured below).
The second of those areas in which I used my phone more was navigation: being in a foreign country and traveling to different areas within that country as a foreigner naturally means that you do not know the area. Particularly on trips, I would consult my phone for navigational advice to ensure I knew (basically) where I was going and what I was doing, and in the city of Edinburgh, I would often use a bus app to chart the best route through the city for the best rate. While I had a practical use for my phone, I did not want to rely on my phone so much so that it became a buffer, a mediator, between myself and my abroad experience. So while I did use my phone for photography and navigation much more than I normally would at home, my overall phone usage was less than normal because of a different environment. This change helped me to get a healthy distance from that pocket-sized electronic stimulation dispenser and many other things as well, which going abroad can undoubtedly facilitate in a myriad of ways.