No Service

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We arrived at our cabin among the tall redwoods in Big Sur National Park, and I noticed that the little service icon at the top left-hand corner of my iPhone was spinning and searching. Finally, the phone displayed its preprogrammed, resigned message, "No Service." We were 90 miles from home, surrounded by chaparral-covered hillsides with no mode of electronic communication. No phones, emails or texts.

Within a few minutes of frantic searching, we found a small pocket of service in the east corner of our room if we stood on a chair and stretched out our hand. Those first few hours we jockeyed for that chair.

Various emergency scenarios flew through my mind. What if my mother had a fall? What if my dog choked on a bone? What if my house got burglarized?

Much like withdrawal from some psychoactive influence, I spent most of the first evening of that weekend thinking of the streams of information on my now silent gadget that I was being denied. I had built a case of immense personal significance, and I was now suffering from its lack of validity. I was indispensable. Therefore, I was dependent.

The next morning I suffered a twinge of peevishness at not being able to download the Saturday editorials, but by mid-afternoon my short-term memory bank was filling with versions of verdant foliage. With the discovery of a path that led to a burbling rill, my withdrawal was complete.


That weekend, I discovered how to step down from the treadmill of connectivity. I became an effective communicator. I read. I hiked. I paused to admire vistas of craggy outcrops. I inched close enough to feel the spray of a waterfall. My friend and I dissected elements of our lives. All without being compelled to furtively glance at a touch screen.

It was a short-term liberation, for I'm back where I was, imprisoned by my gadgets. But I often imagine returning to that no-service area with a renewed sense of humility.

With a Perspective, I'm Jaya Padmanabahn.

Jaya Padmanabhan is editor of India Currents magazine.