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Monday, March 2, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 25.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Life without my smart phone

I forgot my phone the other day. Left it on the kitchen counter. I spent the entire day without it. Miraculously, I was able to function and to survive.

There was a time in America, boys and girls, when everybody didn't carry their own phone, when everybody didn't have instant access to email, when there was no such thing as email, and when there were no apps for this or that or anything else. Those days are gone, and there's a lot to be said for being able to be more productive and get stuff done no matter where you are, but there's something to be said as well about experiencing those odd moments of disconnection.

I got to a lunch meeting a little early. If I had my phone with me, I would have pulled it out and started checking messages and email. Instead, I read the entire menu and then I gazed out the window. Over the course of a few minutes, I noticed a number of people connected with the Judge Doyle Square development headed in the direction of the Madison Municipal Building. Guess there must have been a meeting on that topic at noon. But mostly I just gazed out at the lovely day, not thinking about much of anything at all in particular.

Later on, I met a friend for a beer at the Memorial Union Terrace. While waiting in line for a bratwurst, I could have grabbed my phone again and gotten some work done. But phoneless, I counted the number of kids working behind the counter. They outnumbered customers by almost two-to-one, leading me to wonder why it took me five minutes to get my brat.

But instead of being irritated, I just gazed out at the lake and at Picnic Point, where I noticed later from a different vantage point that you can see the windmills way out in the town of Springfield. I started thinking about whether I found the windmills to mar the horizon or whether I should think of them as sculpture and as a reassuring sign that we were moving away from fossil fuels. I concluded that it was a little of each.

Later when my friend went to get another beer (and to lose a previous one) I could have turned to my phone again. Only, of course, I had no phone. So I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting at the next table who worked for the Madison school district. I knew him a little, but not enough to pull me away from my phone if I actually had it. With nothing else to do, I talked with an actual human being in "real time" as they say, instead of communicating on a one-dimensional level with someone whenever they happened to check their messages.

Look, I'm no Luddite. As a rule, I think technology makes our lives a lot better. But there's something to be said for the odd scraps of time spent in idle observation or just in day dreaming. It seems to me that the smart phone may have just about obliterated the day dream. Yes, it may have made us smarter, but less dreamy as well. And me, well, I'm a day dream believer.

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