Puerto Rico, Here I Come!
In April 2017 I sold everything I owned and moved to a small surfing village on the island of Puerto Rico. I was tired of the twenty year’s of hustle in Los Angeles and sitting in traffic for many additional hours. Single in my late 30’s and found I was too old for most men of L.A. Not to mention I found online dating to be creepy and impersonal. If you chose not to swipe right, you were home alone every Saturday night. Not that I minded much as I had become introverted and happy to stay at home with my dogs. I would play my records, read books and have mini dance parties’ solo.
Warm Water and Un Crowded Waves
Surfing, my favorite activity and social time became a burden, due to the crowds and distance I was living from the water. The older I got, the colder I got, and warm water was sounding divine. I wanted wetsuit free life. The town that once inspired me was no longer serving me. I was over it. All I wanted was to surf in a bikini (while my body still allowed for it) teach meditation and live a simple life. Adios fake plastic land!
Communication Break Down
Once on the island, I soon discovered that my cell phone did not work in most places. I was told that it would work fine by T-Mobile, but that was not the case. I kept my number from the states and was on a plan paying off my I phone 7. So unless I wanted to pay two phone bills, I was stuck with spotty reception. Plus I had had the same number for two decades and was not ready to let it go. So I had to adapt and only use it when I could find reception.
Lonely With No Phone, But A Great View
I was in a new town feeling alone without any friends and sometimes wanted to call a familiar voice in the states. Without cell service my unlimited data with wifi and a built-in hotspot was useless. My daily social media obsession started to dwindle. No longer could I spend endless amounts of time scrolling aimlessly through Facebook and Instagram, unless I wanted to sit in the parking lot at Edwards market. I was unable to show off the new tropical paradise where I dwelled. The phone never worked at the beach. Then I slowly stopped caring. Instead of looking at the small screen I was staring at coconut trees and electric blue waves of the Caribbean.
When I was looking for an apartment, the first thing I would check was if I had at least three bars on my phone. I felt unsafe in a new place without the ability to call for help. I needed to be able to conduct business from home. Phone must work at home. Up in the mountains about 5 miles from the center of town I fell in love with an adorable two bedroom apartment with a million dollar view of the jungle and ocean. The phone had bars! I signed a six-month lease. Once I moved in, I discovered that it was a fluke and the damn phone barely worked. I felt defeated. I loved my new home so much, and I never wanted to leave unless I was going surfing.
Cutting the Electronic Leash
Every day I found myself having to drive down the mountain so that I could check in with the world. Friends and family began to get irritated as they could not reach me as often and it would usually take 24 hours for me to reply. Soon they too would adapt to my new way of communication. My electronic leash was finally cut. Then I started to think, so what if I don’t call you or text you right back? Why did I have to be a slave to the phone? I could decide when I wanted to communicate. So I found a café with wifi and chose the hours of the day that I wanted to work and return phone calls. Once back up the mountain I was unreachable. It was awesome. It became my favorite excuse. I sat in my hammock for hours on end looking at the stars and dreaming, creating and being with myself. The digital detox began.
A Real Digital Detox
Over the summer a friend had asked me to watch over his condo while he was surfing in Costa Rica for the season. It was near the center of town and had wifi, cell signal, and A/C. Having access to this space was a game changer for me. This little condo soon became my office. I no longer had to sit at café’s every day to work and was able to keep myself on schedule. I could have stayed there at night and stream movies until I passed out, but loved my mountain house so much that I would return there every night. It was so helpful, and I was so grateful to have this space and planned a meditation retreat and was able to connect with people on the island who wanted to work with me. I found the notifications that would pop up on my phone to be a distraction from the productive work I was conducting. So I turned off all notifications on my phone.
Breaking Away from Social Media
I was getting further and further removed from the Internet and social media. Honestly only using those platforms for marketing and staying in touch with people in faraway lands. I began to notice when at restaurants and out in town that most Puerto Ricans and gringos too, did not have their phones glued to their hands like a security blanket like the entire population of Los Angeles and the United States. Maybe this was the way of the island. Perhaps I was finally getting into the rhythm of this enchanted paradise.
Learning How to Read a Map
Sometimes I wished I had a good reception when driving to places outside of my little village. Being the new girl in town, I certainly did not know my way around and could not use my phone to navigate me anywhere. Time to purchase a map. Do they sell these things anymore? Sometimes I would fear that my used car would break down and I wouldn’t be able to call for help. Soon these little fears became obsolete.
Adapting without a Smartphone
One morning on my way to surf, I locked my phone keys and wallet in my car at my house up on the mountain. I was trapped, living five miles up a crazy road with minimal Spanish speaking skills. What was I going to do? It 5:30 am, and I didn’t want to wake up my neighbors. Who was I going to call? Who remembers phone numbers anymore? I decide to start walking to my friend’s house about 4 miles down the mountain. On my walk down I luckily ran into an English speaking Puerto Rican who had a number of a man who broke into cars for 20 bucks. Saved! Once again I was discovering how I could function in any situation without the use of my phone.
In September of 2017, two significant hurricanes hit my little island. I was there for both. The first one Irma left us without water or power for about a week and no cell service for two whole days. Then about two weeks later came Maria. You cannot even imagine what this little island went through after this category five hurricane obliterated us. The hurricane experience is a whole other article I will compose at another time. All cell phone towers were down. I could not even call my mother to tell her I was alive. It was awful. Not having any communication for over three weeks was the least of my worries. Finding food and water became my full-time job every day and helping others.
Connecting in Real Time
I would find myself looking at my phone and re-reading text messages from friends and loved ones for comfort. After a while, I stopped carrying the phone around. There was no power to charge it, and I had taken enough photos of the aftermath. I began to connect with other humans in real time all the time. It was beautiful. We would keep each other company in candlelight and tell stories. We created a town bulletin board where people would post news and supplies they had or needed. Here I was smack in the midst of a natural disaster unable to call anyone for help or check the news report. I survived. We all survived without technology. You made plans with others to meet certain places and stuck to it.
Nature, the Best Entertainment
No surf apps to check the waves and buoys. I would have to go and study the surf and time the sets. It was like old world living in extreme camping conditions. Children who were used to screen time daily detoxed quickly and were outside riding bikes and playing. They felt as if they were on vacation as the schools were all closed. It was a pure joy to see children playing in the outdoors and spending quality time with their parents who were also screen free.
Breaking up With Technology
When I was finally rescued off the island five weeks later, I was overwhelmed by the messages, texts, and emails from all over the world. My online bills were outstanding, and all I could do was call my mom. I found a real aversion to my iPhone. Finally detoxed completely to screen time. No longer did I have interest in screens. I found that my time on the island with zero communication became one of the best times of my life. Having long conversations with strangers, playing games, being of service and connecting in real time.
Phone Free Friends
After recovering for a week in Miami, my friend from the island who I had been condo sitting offered to get me to California to improve my health further. Another gift. I had suffered some mild trauma from the conditions I was in and was not ready for the real world quite yet. He and I were talking about how either one of us is a phone person and how dehumanizing all this technology is. This guy was apparently on my level and soon became my special gentleman friend.
Screens Everywhere you Look
We very quickly starting observing when out to dinner that there were screens everywhere. Babies with I pads in their strollers, couples out to dinner whom never even looked up at each other. People at concerts staring at their phones and videoing the performance. One afternoon we went on a hike and looked for a trail map. All we could find in the map box was a little scanner symbol. So basically I needed a smartphone to find my way through nature, this was maddening. It became evident to us both that we needed to start a movement. As we walked along the beach one day, we started throwing out ideas for the name of this campaign. Together we came up with #OPTOFF.
OPTOFF the Movement
This movement is not about shamming people who use phones and computers. We still do. It is okay. Please pay attention and be more conscious about how much screen time you engage in. It is more about educating people about the dangers of being addicted to your smartphone or device. Try turning off notifications, try to power off your device (less radiation happens when you power off). Try it for an hour a day. Stop speaking in emoji. Pick up the phone and call your lover. Try not to pull it out a dinner. Be okay with not getting validation via likes on your social media accounts. Be okay living in real time. Connect with humans. Try to leave the house without your phone. I promise you will be okay. Use your smartphone as a tool, not a security blanket. Please lead by example to your children. Babies need love and food, not I pads in their cribs to soothe them. Children just want your attention. Learn how to read a real map, it might save your life one day.