I hate to admit that my mom was right. All of the times she told me to put my phone down and enjoy the moment — I should have listened.
Last summer, I signed up for a service trip to the Sacred Valley of Peru. I looked at the itinerary and noticed that I would be camping for eight nights. I did not really think about the fact that I would be without cell phone service and trapped in a tent for days with people I did not know.
As we hiked to our campsite, I noticed my phone lost a bar of service every five minutes or so. I thought to myself, “What will I do without my phone? How am I going to communicate with my friends and family?” I’m a teenager. I typically can access my phone or the internet in a matter of seconds whenever I please. However, being in another country meant that I would have to adapt to not being able to connect to my technological world.
It took me a day or two to actually acclimate to the environment that I would be living in for the next week. I sat in my tent, bundled up in my layers of clothes and sleeping bag, longing for communication with my friends and family far away. I worried and felt disconnected from everything, as if the people at home would soon forget me in their daily routines as these two weeks progressed.
One night, it was time for dinner and we all exited our main living tents and walked down the steep path to the tent where we had all of our meals. I sat, waiting for my dinner to be passed down the line, when all of a sudden I felt at ease. Conversations were being exchanged around the table and I would occasionally voice an opinion or give advice. My leader would share riddles and stories, and as I looked around I could see the content and gratification in my new friend’s facial expressions. Not having the distractions of an alert or game on my phone allowed me to genuinely listen to every spoken word and notice the small but important details. Suddenly, my perspective changed completely. It was in this moment when I realized that being present in the moment is worth more than how many retweets I receive on Twitter or how many text messages I have when I open my phone.
With this realization, I was not ready to go back and face the lifestyle I grew away from during my time in Peru. It became obvious to me that the disconnection our smartphones and technology bring to society is hurtful to sincere relationships we grow with our peers. Interacting in an environment without a cellphone fostered interpersonal trust, empathy, and authenticity. The trip was a sign to me that my life should not just be a thread of messages, tweets, or snapchats to the people around me. It was a sign that I do not need a screen to feel self-worth and connection to others, but rather the rare, genuine face-to-face communication is where I feel the most satisfaction.