The Power of IRL

I was on the phone with a friend when she mentioned she’ll be in Orlando next month.

“I stayed at the coolest little bed and breakfast there,” I told her. “Hang on, I’ll give you the name of it.”

I knew I had photos of the place on my Instagram, so I scrolled back to my posts from last October to see if I’d tagged the location.

I did, but I found myself sidetracked by the memory of that trip. My ex, a musician, had taken me on the road with him while he played a string of shows. We woke up in a new city almost every day, and because there was so much to see and explore, I hardly used my phone except to post one picture a day.

As I scrolled through the photos and read their captions, my memory filled in the blanks and I was moved by nostalgia because I remembered being there.

I remembered because I wasn’t distracted with a barrage of notifications, social media and news articles. I remembered because I was living in the moment, paying attention to real life as it happened.

Woke up excited about the prospect of free breakfast and a waffle iron, though none of us actually ended up making a waffle. It was an hour-forty from Valdosta to Gainesville. Rolled into town around 1:30pm, picked up Fest packets and checked into the little shed with Spanish tile we rented for the night, and then we headed out in search of tacos… I already feel very in love with this town. Now we’ve got ten hours and a six pack to kill before Jeff & Jillian play Whiskey House. Unplanned adventure… perfect. I always secretly look forward to nothing going as planned. That way, I’m not limited by imagination. That way, anything can, and always does, happen.

Someone told me once about a street hobo who would grand anyone who could answer his riddle one wish. That sounds like a pretty good deal.

If everything “works out,” if we pull off our plans without deviation, we’ll have a good couple days and nights before we’re back in Nashville. Maybe not a bad plan, maybe not a great plan. Best to travel with a plan and hope for chaos. Either way, we win. 

The ability to form memories and human bonds instead of distracting ourselves with (mostly) useless information is fundamental to our happiness. New research from Baylor University suggests that the time we spend on social media is directly proportional to how unhappy we feel. The less time we’re on our phones, the happier we are. It’s related to comparison. In real life, we’re not constantly looking at ourselves in relation to someone else; our bodies, experiences, breakfasts and clothes are just fine as we have them while we have them. We’re able to concentrate on what’s happening, not what should be happening.

But when we look at social media at the digital and curated versions of others, it’s possible for a sense of want to come over us— want for something “out there” instead of “here now.”

That feeling is a waste of time. It’s also easily avoidable when we put our phones down and pay attention to what’s going on around us.

Good morning, Orlando! We almost stayed in Gainesville, but decided last minute, after a bit of an ordeal, to come to Orlando after all. We pulled into this dreamy property around 1:30am. We were all expecting a chain hotel, so this was a nice surprise. Hotels on this trip have been shots in the dark— we never know what the place will be like until we get there. A mysterious person who Jeff refers to only as “hotel guy” gets him the rooms. I don’t care enough to ask questions.

There was talk about the Dali Museum, and the beach in St. Petersburg, but neither seems promising thanks to high ticket prices and toxic waste. We might go look at the beach, anyway… it’s sort of a romantic life, one to look back on with wonder, maybe as the glory days of still being young enough. If it’s poverty, it’s only on paper. That’s all just an expression of what one can buy, anyway. What about how much one can experience? Doesn’t that count for anything?

We’re all pretty good at living in the moment when we’re on vacation, but on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to waste minutes or hours mindlessly scrolling through our phones. Studies suggest the average person checks his or her phone at least 120 times per day. It sounds like a high number, but think of the times you’ve opened your phone even when there was no notification to alert you. When you’re in line at the store, do you open your phone and mindlessly browse? How many times have you been at dinner with a group of people and felt the need to check your Facebook?

What if we utilized that time to learn something, or just paid better attention to our surroundings?

We’d notice more. We’d be better friends and lovers. We’d allow for more chance encounters and conversations. We’d have more ideas.

There is no downside to spending less time in the digisphere and more time in real life.

At the suggestion of a friend, yesterday took us to Melbourne Beach, 59 miles from Orlando. On the edge of the Atlantic, there were Coronas, drip castles and omnipotent, orange-tinted waves that tested our strength. You can’t ever swim against the current…

We dug holes in the sand for no reason. What else was there to do? And then we set off to find sushi, always better in a coastal town. Driving down highway A1A, lined with 1970s pastel-colored Adobe hotels with names like the Seashell Suites and the Surfcaster. Jillian said proprietors used to paint buildings pink because it was the most expensive color and represented wealth.

Most of the small Atlantic beach towns I’ve seen give me the same displaced sense of nostalgia for places I’ve never been and lives I’ve never lived.

I fell asleep on the ride back to Orlando. When I woke up it was dark and romantic in more thematic ways— the enchanting tale of young-enoughs discovering the last of small-town America and whatever’s left of the culture. The most revealing glimpses come not in the towns themselves but in the roads in-between..

At the hotel, Jeff and I watched the Cubs win game five of the World Series. Two more to go.

It’s Halloween. It’s warm. Houses are decorated with purple lights, and bedsheet ghosts are hanging from Palm Trees and grey-white Spanish moss.

While it’s convenient to have a computer in our pockets, it’s also a slippery slope. We can regain traction by making a conscious decision to put the phone down whenever we can and engage with our surroundings instead.

Even though the captions are detail-driven and telling of the trip, I remember all the little things that made the experience what it was.

I remember an orange, mangy cat outside the lobby. I picked it up and felt the vibration of its pur through the cotton of my shirt.

I remember, at the bar of one of the venues, talking to a girl who said that all her favorite writers were either crazy or dead.

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