"How do you take notes while writing your book?" my former campaign manager asked one October afternoon.
"I use pen and paper. I do not have time for technology."
I began writing on my iPad, but the nearly 10" touchscreen did not fit in my cargo pockets I sport outside, on the ramp, at the airport. I switched to my iPhone before policy changes dictated I write more simply, with pen and paper.
On a sweltering July afternoon, my colleagues and I received an email. The formatting appeared to be sent from a mobile. In one long paragraph, with more ellipses and fewer capitalizations than sentences and without any true stops in punctuation, the message was clear: no more cell phones.
Compliance lasted about a month. Mobiles stayed in their respective pockets with headphones being strung up inside t-shirts and earbuds replacing earplugs. Devices crept out when people thought no one was looking. I followed a childhood lesson I learned in the wings of the theatre while dancing: if you can see them, they can see you.
Although absolute compliance diminished with time, employees were more aware of the perception of passengers. Perceptions can easily become reality. We need to marry the details of our actions and the perceptions they create with the reality of the safe, effective and friendly environment in which we work.
To demonstrate the significance of perception, my seatmate on flight 0900 to Costa Rica told me a story:
Imagine a bearded biker walks into a bar. He wears boots, leather pants and jacket, a bandana and black hat. His broad shoulders, thick stomach, and strong legs reckon him someone not to cross. As he puts his hands on the bar, his leather sleeves slide up his forearms, revealing sleeves of ink. He orders a drink. The bartender places the glass in front of him and the biker picks it up and sips from the straw.
My seatmate raised his hand to his mouth, pinkie finger extended, and mimicked taking a drink with a delicate slurp. "The image is ruined. The formidable biker loses all credibility by drinking from a straw."
The "no-cell-phone" policy had another effect on me: convenience. I have been taking notes on my experience with the airlines since day one. On difficult days, I tell myself, "It's for the book," and I laugh at my own notes.
One mild morning, before dawn, I sat on the ramp, behind one of the wings, waiting for clearance to push the plane from the gate. Suddenly, I had an idea for a chapter. As the morning was still dark, I did not think it wise to challenge the perception of safety and reliability by illuminating my face with my LED screen. The reality was also that I did not know how much time I had before the aircraft would be clear to push. I did not want to challenge time by entering passcodes and opening apps. I quickly unclipped the black ink pen from my lanyard and pulled my notebook from my cargo pocked to transpose my thoughts. I raised my orange wand, signaling a clear path for the wings, just as I returned my notebook to my pocket.
Perception and convenience simplify my writing. Some of my best writing was on a 5x7" yellow notepad at a café, across from the Luxor Temple, on the Nile's east bank. My MacBook was too valuable to pack backpacking and sailing the Nile, where I was closer to Sudan than to Cairo. The first iPhone had been released about a year prior, but the price unjustifiable for a new university graduate. I sold my car to move to Cairo and my Vodafone from the previous summer in Tunisia operated with a switch of a Sim card. I packed a few pens and two spiral-bound, lined, yellow notebooks that remained functional after being doused with several drops of hot chai tea and a smear of fresh mango juice. Today, Apple's "Notes" app defaults to a yellow lined paper and a font that resembles handwriting instead of typeface.
"Oh, that's good. Write that down," friends often say when we discuss my writing projects. It is much less of an interruption to the flow of the conversation to jot down the idea with pen and paper than to make a note on my iPhone. My purse takes on a few extra ounces by my little red journal and a black ink pen, or two. But I avoid heavy bag fees when I travel, packing light and not allowing room to return with more physical objects than when I left. I live the French meaning of souvenir, as I remember much more from my words, draining the weight of my thoughts on the pages of my journal.
Perhaps I have bought in to the perception of others and made my own reality one of limited connectivity for stronger connections. I use connectivity to bridge a physical distance, not as an alternative for connecting to something or someone I can conveniently touch.
I do not wish to have the light of a mobile screen reflecting off my face as I write. By being unplugged from technological connectivity, I am more able to connect with the faces around me. Particularly when traveling, I want to observe and describe people, places and ideas. I want the pages of my journal stained by the wet rings left by coffee cups and local beer bottles. I would rather decipher smeared black ink from an unforeseen storm than lose everything to a permanently black screen that clashed louder than thunder with the rain. I unplug to communicate my reality, and create the perception to others, of genuine interest. It is more convenient to write without a ticking clock and battery life displayed in the corner of the screen, but rather lose all sense of time in the connection of thoughts and feelings with other people.