A few years ago, I took my family to Paris to celebrate a milestone birthday in the hopes it would distract me from the realization I was approaching the start of the "colonoscopy years." Despite the fact it would only be my first visit to the City of Lights, I always felt a strong connection with the French; Parisians in particular. I was eager to make the pilgrimage to what I knew would be one of the greatest cities in the world.
For years I had heard about the alleged arrogance of the French people, particularly towards Americans. My theory of this being a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than a cultural divide proved true. After a few days in Paris, it became apparent that while the French were direct, they were also quite hospitable and very welcoming to this American who was eager to soak in everything from the fresh baguettes to the sights and sounds of a city that was responsible for so much great art, literature and music.
What struck me most was the lack of obsession the Parisians had with technology and mobile devices. Unlike all of us here in the United States, most Parisians don't walk with their heads down thumb wrestling with a keyboard to send a message that is not the least bit urgent. They hold their heads high, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of their great metropolis. While I did see people making calls from their mobile phones from time-to-time, the calls were short and the devices quickly disappeared after the call was complete.
During lunchtime, businessmen and women sat in the cafes not pounding away on their BlackBerrys or iPhones, but rather enjoying a glass of wine and reading a book while eating their meal. They were taking an actual lunch BREAK.
Wherever I went, I saw people intoxicated by life instead of addicted to technology and the fictitious urgency it creates to sustain itself. Paris had not succumbed to the misguided dependency on "staying connected." It was an epiphany for me. Life does not exist on the screen of a computer or a mobile device; it is a 360-degree experience happening all around me. It was time to lift my head up and smell the proverbial roses, or baguettes as the case may be. I was inspired, and promised myself that, upon my return to the States, I was going to make some life-altering changes.
Within two weeks of returning to Los Angeles, I ditched my BlackBerry for a simple mobile phone that would be used for making and receiving occasional calls. No e-mail, no looking up movie times and no posting the insignificant details of my life on Facebook or Twitter.
I dusted off my dependable FiloFax, and began my new, enlightened analog life. My address book and calendar were now on paper. And, more importantly, I was not responding to business associates emails within minutes of their arrival. I talked with people more, and listened more too. I took the time to actually "think" instead of just "respond" in a futile effort to clear my inbox.
For three glorious weeks I lived, and acted, like a real human being. I became a better communicator, and was able to offer a more insight and perspective to others. I was aware of the world around me and of the people in it. Food tasted better. The air was fresher. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me and for the first time in a long while, I was a free man.
Week four is when it all came crashing down. Frantic calls from clients and business associates who had sent me an email and, for almost an entire hour, had not gotten any response. Surely I must have been in some sort of horrific accident to have not responded to an email for such an extended period of time. Voicemails started to pile up inquiring if I had gotten a recently sent email. Emails were flying in expressing concern over un-returned voicemails. Text messages asking if I was alive sent my phone into a perpetual state of vibration.
It was then that I realized the problem did not lie within me. I was not addicted to technology as so many people are, but rather a prisoner to it. The world in which I existed would not permit me to disconnect, and if I did, the repercussions would have been significant -- lost clients and a life spent in exile from my personal and professional associates.
Ernest Hemingway famously declared, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." He was right; Paris does stay with you. But the real question is, can you stay with Paris?