One moment I had it and the next it was gone. I was online on a bench in a shopping mall in a foreign country without a care in the world. I cannot say it was stolen but I suspect it was. As I left the bench I put my phone in my back pocket for some reason (I usually keep it in the front pocket) and then realized about 20 minutes later it was gone. I checked all the locations I’d recently been and even did some searches on Google for it. The phone was turned off by the time I was able to search for it. Perhaps by then it was gone for good and already destined for re-sale.
Losing a phone was not a completely new experience for me. In my 20s (and early 30s I suppose) I lost and broke a fair few phones but this was my first experience with this in a while and my first experience truly losing smartphone (as opposed to just misplacing it, or leaving it in a cab and paying an extortionate price to get it back).
You might be wondering, dear reader, why I’d choose to tell this (mostly uninteresting) story on what is ostensibly an English teaching blog. There is a connection. But first a bit more background information…
In the past few years I’ve really started to enjoy taking walks. Armed with a podcast or three I love to walk around Seoul. The mighty Han River and local mountains are among my favorite places for a nice walk. Seoul is a great place to walk when the weather (and and fine dust level) cooperates. A late afternoon walk after classes is a cherished activity and even something of a routine for me. Listening to podcasts (mostly about the NBA and politics) gives me a chance to relax and sort of tune out and zone out.
In the days immediately following the tragic loss of my smartphone I still went on the walks. I simply walked without any sort of additional entertainment. Something interesting happened without the smartphone and podcasts. I thought about my classes more. I thought about my classes more deeply. I gained some insights I suspect I’d have been unlikely to get had I been listening to commentary about the latest outrage from the White House. It was interesting to note the difference in what I thought about as I walked.
I didn’t actually make a conscious effort to think about class and students but it naturally happened without the “distraction” of the podcasts. I just sort of replayed scenes from class and freely followed my train of thought which often landed me in my classroom. I don’t have any clear evidence that this was helpful for my actual practice of teaching but I did feel that I was a bit more in touch with the choices I’d been making in class and the responses these choices garnered than usual. I felt like this unstructured time with no planned distractions was helpful for me.
A similar (and more troubling, perhaps) realization I had without the smartphone came while waiting for the elevator to go to my office (hey, give me a break it’s on the 10th floor). Instead of checking Twitter or the news or Facebook or email or whatever else I just stood there. I was forced to
impatiently wait for the elevator and my mind tended to focus more on what had just happened in the class I had just scurried away from. Removing the distraction of having the entirety of humanity’s knowledge in the palm of my hand gave me some fleeting moments to freely ponder my classes and my teaching. I can’t say this completely transformed my teaching. All I can say is these moments did provide me with some chances to think about class when it was still fresh in my mind and these chances might not have come had I been playing around with phone.
I am not sure if this allegory counts as “one weird trick that will transform your teaching” but I will almost certainly promote this post on Twitter as such. I sincerely hope it was mildly interesting or at least gave you a chance to think about the role modern technology plays in our lives. I find myself wondering about how random experiences can impact our teaching or at least our thoughts about teaching (or our thoughts about our thoughts about teaching). Thank you for reading, especially if you are waiting in line.
- This tale comes from late summer and early autumn 2017. I have since acquired a new phone. Donations still welcome. Expressions of pity or sorrow not needed as I have already gotten over the whole thing.
- An interesting aspect of writing this post so much later is the obvious point that I could still just choose to take a walk without my phone or could just choose to not listen to a podcast while walking. This has not been a common choice. It only happens when my phone battery is low.
- I can say that I have been more conscious about not immediately opening my phone any time I have to wait for something and trying my best to persevere through moments of boredom and waiting by occupying my mind in other ways. That said waiting for the elevator or for students to take the elevator up 2-3 flights of stairs can get boring at times.
- When I say “foreign country” above I mean not the nation of my birth but also mean not the country I reside in. I suppose I also mean it’s a country I am not so familiar with and don’t speak the language(s) of.
- Even though it was unsuccessful the google search (for Android phones) is pretty cool. I just typed in “Where is my phone?” and the overlords over at Google where able to tell me exactly where my phone had been last used. It turns out it was last used by me in the aforementioned mall but it was somehow good to know. I also managed to delete any information on my phone via my Google account.
- Do check out John Steele Photo as there are some great shots there, many from the fine city of Seoul. Special thanks to John for graciously sharing the photo above for this post.