So this weekend I both switched phone companies and downgraded my phone. Yep, you read that right – I downgraded.
Here’s a story : I was walking through San Francisco one fine summer day, listening to music on the headphones. Queen was playing when one of my earphones got out of whack, so I stopped to fix it. When I looked around I found that I was in front of a Buddhist temple with a giant statue of Manjusri in the back. Holy shit.
So of course I went inside and talked to one of the attendants for a while. When I tried to take a picture of Manjusri, they very politely told me that wasn’t allowed. Holy shit. “Why? I mean, not that I’m attacking your traditions, I’m interested in what the taboo against photographing bodhisattvas is? This actually interests me more than the photograph.” She didn’t know, but more importantly, I didn’t get my photograph.
So I return to my walk across The Shining City, only this time without music. I decided if I’m gonna walk with a destination or walk for exercise, maybe music is ok, but when I’m trying to EXPERIENCE the city, it’s important to have as few distractions as possible so that I could perceive as much as I could in my short time there. As Kerouac said, “#2 : Submissive to everything, open, listening.” Bustling streets, sleeping bums, beautiful women, the hardness of the sidewalks and the coolness of the air – it became a journey about ripping-off those filters we use to “deal with” the thickness of everyday perception.
This brings me back to my phone. So many people wander around looking down at their little glowing screens, being distracted from the world around them by computer magic. It’s fucking pathetic. Be in the world – if you’re gonna step outside into the world, BE there. I’ve never owned a “smart” phone for this reason. When I need to do computer shit, I use a goddamn computer and put myself in that context. Any other time I’m out in the world experiencing it. Acrid exhaust fumes, brilliant food with magnificent women, the amazing tactile sensation of turning the pages of A FUCKING BOOK! Drink that shit with your senses.
“But Ben,” people ask, “what do you do when you’re lost and can’t look at online maps?” Uh, stop and communicate with someone? Honestly I have some cherished memories of getting lost alongside effulgent people. #23 of My Own Personal Kerouac is “With good enough company, all else is irrelevant.”
The epilogue to this is that my new phone doesn’t even have a camera. No pictures of Manjusri or anything else. What would I have done with a picture of Manjusri anyway? Say “hey, I was here once”? The picture would sit in some archive on my hard drive and be looked at maybe once a year, if that. Instead, I have a story about NOT taking a picture that means a whole fucking lot more to me.