December 19, 2010
When in Paris, BE in Paris: Disconnect
When I go to Europe, I try to disconnect as much as I can. As long as I can get online for several hours in the morning and late at night, I can still be productive AND take in what the destination has to offer.
This past trip, I really couldn't be disconnected at all -- day or night -- largely because not only do I have multiple projects in the air at any given time, but I need to be available for discussions and Skype meetings at odd hours of the day -- and night. I was also organizing a large luncheon and dinner so being reachable was a priority.
And so, I opted in for Verizon's international service, which they assured me included unlimited data and email for an extra buck and change a day, all of which could be pro-rated for the time you're gone.
Mind you, I also had a Google phone with a local SIM card so bloggers, media, and entrepreneurs could reach me on a Paris-based number AND I could dial out without it costing a fortune. This was also useful for local texting although I still had the Blackberry for international texting which costs about 50 cents a pop. Thank god for always-on email. (or not....)
What I found with Blackberry at my fingertips with always-on coverage that actually worked, was that I was NEVER disconnected. If Vodafone didn't give me a signal, then Orange did or some other obscure carrier. The other odd thing that was sometimes useful and sometimes outright ridiculous, was the fact that I was getting coverage in the Metro WHILE THE TRAIN WAS MOVING! (yes, underground).
While my nose was buried into work attempting to be productive every minute of the day, I noticed that other noses were buried in their devices too. Since it was Paris and not Silicon Valley however, they were not tweeting, checking in or responding to every comment on Facebook like the obsessive lot on America's west coast do, but they WERE playing games and texting. I spent days observing this and nearly always, they were busy doing one or the other.
Here's the other thing that I not only noticed but downright annoyed me....because people were nose deep in their phones -- even on the street -- people were bumping into me and I them, frequently. People were so distracted with the digital emptiness, the digital void....that digital addiction that keeps them tethered to their moving, breathing, brightly lit, purring mobile device.
And sadly, I was one of the robotic mice moving through the maze.....not pushing back but surrendering to the one thing that ensures we stay distracted and not present to the here and now.
Digital addicts who are proud and thrilled to be one, will argue that they are in fact present in the here and now, all the time, but it's just the here and now that is happening on their phones. They will also argue that the here and now involves intimate relationships with people because the chatter is happening in real-time on their mobile phones nearly every minute of the day.
That said, when in Paris, the here and now is most definitely not answering emails, text messages, direct tweets, comments on Facebook, LinkedIn, shouts on Foursquare or Gowalla or threads on Posterous, Digg and Storify, while you're walking down the street.
There's so much to miss in Paris when you're not present, or any decadent-rich city for that matter, ones that really know how to tap into your senses. Mobile devices do not tap into my senses even if the screen tries to with enticing offers on food, wine, games, men and song.
Paris' here and now is fresh cafe with hot milk, crepes with ham, cheese and mushrooms made before your eyes, and picking an individual dark chocolate with pistachio or rasberry and watching them wrap it in a brightly colored foil with a beautifully tied ribbon.
Paris' here and now is walking around the corner late at night and suddenly being greeted by the astonishing sight of Notre Dame, so breathtaking you could shed a tear of joy. It is seeing a stream of pigeons surrounded by flickering colored lights around a bush covered in the latest December snow or marveling in the hazy blue mist that comes across the winter sky as you walk along the Seine after dark.
Paris' here and now is being present enough to be notice the energy shift as you cross from the Marais to Bastille's borders and then back again. Present enough to find the gems in the tourist clutter of all your favorite neighborhoods. Present enough to find the delight in the walled graffiti as well as the wind, rain and dampness that comes with a cold Christmas season day.
Present enough to discover that you're surrounded by accents and languages from every pocket of the world, watching what makes them laugh, what they decided to wear that day and what they're carrying from A to B on the RER heading north.
Present enough to look over your arm on the bus to see what he or she is reading and present enough to listen hard enough to catch what artist is playing through the headphones of the 20 year old Algerian who just whizzed past you.
Thanks (or shall I say no thanks) to technology, my mobile device (s) and the digital addiction that is rapidly moving through the world, I forgot to pick up foie gras at the airport, nor did I buy chocolate on this trip (and I only ate one piece of chocolate compared to the 22 chocolate experiences I had on the last trip which was roughly the same duration).
I also missed out on the two morning markets I had on my list, and had to skip a local Parisian holiday party with a bunch of artists who I was told by the host, wouldn't pick up a mobile device all night and if he was wrong, my favorite bottle of wine was on him.
What I gained was more digital connections and keeping up on the pulse of the world at large, the world outside Paris, the world who was not there to share experiences with me in real-time, in the flesh, over a glass of wine or coq au vin dinner. Next time Paris, next time.....
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