Gurdon: The sweet sorrow of leaving a smartphone behind

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

It's been five days since we were separated, and I still miss my baby. I miss the feeling of connection, of closeness.

At odd moments, my hand will twitch involuntarily, and I'll catch myself reaching out.

And just as quickly, I remember what I'm missing, and pull my hand back, and experience again that sensation of loss. We are separated by more than just distance. Right now, the two of us are worlds apart.

I am here, typing at my desk, while my beloved is surrounded by unfamiliar accents and smells and sensations and has, according to the UPS website, just been "registered with clearing agency" in Louisville, Ky. It is a good sign, a hopeful one! We will be reunited soon, my smartphone and I.

We last saw each other in England, where we had traveled in order to help the oldest child in our family settle in at university. The doughty little phone had come along not for chitchat -- I didn't bother signing up for expensive international service -- but purely for use as a camera, for which it is brilliantly suited. It captured the new co-ed smiling on Waterloo Bridge, in Covent Garden, in Trafalgar Square. All was well!

Then came the moment when I found myself reaching for my companion only to discover it was not there. Too late I realized that I'd left the phone in a place where it was physically safe but to which I could not easily return.

And so began this period of disjointedness, of twitching fingers, thwarted impulses and a hunger for the quick hits of dopamine that such phones are so kind as to provide.

A person learns something about herself at such a time. She learns that when she must, for instance, wait in line without being able to check her phone, she experiences both a sense of ennui and a rekindled interest in looking around her. She discovers that the head naturally raises itself in the absence of a phone, and in so doing, the eye takes in more sky and treetops and a broader view of its surroundings.

The phone-free person is denied quick fact-checking on Google, which is a bummer, but is granted a surprising degree of mental calm. The day is less crowded when it lacks pixels. In fact, the suddenly phone-free person -- if she is anything like me -- may realize that she has developed a rather unhealthy dependency on a piece of technology that does not and cannot love her back. And yet ...

It's easier emotionally to leave a child at university, I have discovered, than accidentally to leave one's iPhone behind. After all, it's normal to separate from an almost-grown-up child, whether she's off to college or the armed forces or to a job. Launching a young person into adult life can be seen as an act of quiet familial triumph, of destiny fulfilled.

But to be untimely separated from one's smartphone? To lose access to one's repository of email addresses, photographs, games of Scrabble and texting capacity? Now that's a trauma.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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