I’m Sorry, the Person You Are Trying to Reach is Unavailable

By Kathryn Jones

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The Statue of Liberty peeks in the background as the John J. Marchi ferry heads to Staten Island.

Catch me in my off hours, and you will find me logged onto “The Facebook.” No, it is not “Facebook.” It is The Facebook. Do not ask me why I always refer to it with a preceding article. It is habit my friends and family mock me for.

Coincidently, I speak of this social network similarly to how I refer to “the teal,” a word that sounds more like a disease to me than a color. And The Facebook should be put into the categories of world epidemics seeing as it has become as much of a contagion for me as any germ found on the poles of a subway train. It is the very thing that psychologically disturbs you into thinking the key to life is status “likes,” physically handicaps you into checking your newsfeed every second, and mentally misguides you into thinking that privacy is a bad thing.

I am what they call a late bloomer. I made it to senior year of high school without becoming diseased by The Facebook. But ever since then, I have become weakened by my illness, logging on various times within an hour and worsening by the minute. I became then exposed to The Twitter, and then, regularly named, Pinterest and Instagram.

I remember childhood in New Jersey, as an adventurous teenybopper. Even if you had never met me, you still knew my name when mall loudspeakers called for my parents to retrieve their lost child. That began a reign of the leash – yes, I was one of those children. But now I’m a 20- year-old wandering around New York City leash-free because everyone knows I would not venture anywhere that is not within reach of Wi-Fi or 4G.

I planned to go back to the Garden State for a hiking adventure, a “Sabbath” from all technology as The Distraction Addiction author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang would call it. However, I cancelled those plans, and ended up waking up midday in my dorm room and checking my newsfeeds before I got out of bed.

Across the room, my roommate Sonya also woke up, but extremely more eager than I was leave our suite. It was Friday, April 4. Every Friday, Sonya has a tradition called Tourist Fridays where she visits a famed attraction in the city. She plopped out of bed to check the list of goal destinations to cover before May we had taped to the wall. She started shouting out the possibilities for her day: riding the Staten Island Ferry, walking along the track at Randall’s Island, seeing the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, or visiting the jail on Rikers’ Island. She tried convincing me to come. With plans of doing homework all day while occasionally peeking at my social media accounts during moments of boredom and distraction, I made the first rash decision I had made in a while by agreeing to accompany her. To add to the randomness of the moment, we picked matching outfits just for fun: black New York University hoodies, black leggings, and sneakers.

The weather forecast rain, the perfect dreariness for a creepy experience at a jail or graveyard. But with it being so late in the day already, nothing would be open by the time we traveled to Harlem or Brooklyn. So somewhere after showering and eating a sandwich, Sonya and I boarded the green line trains to Bowling Green to catch a ferry.

I wanted to avoid all technology. I originally planned to nix using any of the sorts. But unless I wanted to risk being caught in the rain or lose the momentum of our spontaneity, one infraction would not hurt. But, then I realized the technology behind the Staten Island Ferry. I narrowed my Sabbath to a temporary liberation from anything I did not have as a child. I experienced my share public transportation spending weekends in the city, but I ruled out my cellphone seeing that a chunky pink play phone could not match the capabilities of a Samsung. So Sonya controlled all access to Google Maps, time, and human interaction. Even then, I forbade her from using social media on her phone. I needed a friend to go cold turkey with me.

Popping out of the subway station at Bowling Green, onlookers stared at us as if assuming our matching NYU apparel made us a tour group. But as soon as it started to drizzle, their faces blurred as the rain clouded the lenses on my glasses. Sonya and I weaved in and out of the brightly colored umbrellas blocking our view of street signs.

But we remained spontaneous, even more so, as we now refused to use Google Maps. Ahead, a sign designated the National Museum of the American Indian. The building looked like something crafted with colonial inspiration, seen in Washington D.C.. Sonya and I ran up the seemingly endless flight of stairs to a gigantic iron door covered by a red tent. Sonya pulled hard to get the door open, but it was locked. The sign said that the museum was open seven days a week. Confused, we headed down the stairs to find another entrance. But before we reached the bottom, we popped out of phones to take pictures – breaking my Sabbath guidelines.

Sonya and I awkwardly walked propped our heads towards each opening of the building. Seeing a woman come out of a door next to the bottom of the stairs, we went inside. The security guard told us that the museum was closed. We turned and walked towards the exit, which was next to portraits of President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden. We concurred that taking a selfie together with the president was a mandatory part of roommate bonding. We raced to take the perfect picture before the guard noticed. By this time, I rewrote my rules for the day seeing as denying myself to indulge in an activity that both of us enjoy, photography, would hinder our roommate bonding. But I used my phone for no other purpose for the rest of Tourist Friday.

Following the museum, we roamed through the construction zone of what we expected to be a lush Battery Park. Eventually, we reached South Ferry and proceeded with a photo-op outside before Sonya’s first ever ferry ride. We rode the escalator to the gated and joined the crowd waiting for the next boat. Sonya jumped to the front and I followed in order to see the ferry schedule. I let Sonya peek at the time and then watched as she anxiously waited.

The John J. Marchi ferry docked, and we fought not to get separated by the eager crowd. Sonya dashed to the second level and opened the door to go on the deck. Alone on the deck because of the cold and rainy weather, we took numerous photos as the boat left the terminal. We headed to the top deck. Locked doors prevented us from getting the best view at the bow of the boat, so we went to the sides. Opening those doors was a strain for me. After the advice of a commuter, I pulled open the metal door. We continued taking pictures. We took pictures of and with everything in sight, sometimes the most random things. Sonya modeled hilarious poses against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. I knelt next to a lifesaver with the name of the boat, my face stupidly puzzled for thinking “Marchi” was a typo for March and then ranting about how that is not the correct month. The ferry passed Governor’s Island and then docked in Staten Island. Waiting to be left off the boat, we eavesdropped on the absurd and loud conversation of a group of teenage girls.

 

Once we exited the boat, we sprinted to the Staten Island gate. We joined the children examining the fish in a tank by the gate for a few minutes until noticing a ferry docking. We boarded the Manhattan-bound boat, but sat warmly inside the cabins until the skyline came in view. We got up to the front of the cabin to take poetic pictures of the rain-covered windows overlaying the buildings. We went outside on the deck to find an eerie mist covering the tops of skyscrapers and blocking the Freedom Tower from sight. We took pictures of birds flying in the rainless sky, of us, and of us taking pictures. We asked a French couple, the only other people on the deck to take a picture of us. Then the boat docked and we returned to Manhattan.

Relieved by the calming effect of the ferry ride, we felt no sense of duty to return uptown. We meandered around the Financial District. We stumbled upon the Wall Street Bull and took a picture by its behind because too many tourists were at the other end. Once they cleared, a leftover tourist offered to take our picture by the bull’s face. We continued on our journey as rain picked up and became heavier. At one corner, the buildings framed the Freedom Tower perfectly. I stopped to take a picture of a unique subway covering while Sonya captured the tombstones of a historical church. We kept moving. We ended up on a walkway – the FiDi version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I took a picture of the plaque forged  in the sidewalk mentioning journalists. Sonya saw one with Indian leaders and took a picture of that because her hometown is in India.

After not having eaten for hours, we stopped at McDonald’s to pick up fries and carried them in the rain. We decided to check out the dorm we would be living at next year in Chinatown, a task we planned to do sometime in the future. Once Sonya and I found the building, we nonchalantly trekked the floors to find someone to give us a tour of their room. A dormer carrying her laundry through the hall nicely offered. We peered her suite and bombarded her with questions. We thanked her and explored the rest of the residence hall while taking more pictures.

After we felt that there was no more to see, we left and walked towards Washington Square Park. The NYU bus passed us, heading for the dorm. We ran back as fast as we could in the pouring rain, me turning my head occasionally to check on my asthmatic roommate. Soaked and out of breath, Sonya and I hopped on the bus and ended our day without technology.

My phone filled up with pictures from April 4. Back in my dorm room that night, I thought about uploading them to The Facebook or Instagram. Days passed before I did. After my Sabbath, I felt no rush to upload anything. I was not obligated to share what I did with the world. Sonya and I did not take pictures for the purpose of spamming newsfeeds with our adventures or bragging to our friends. The spontaneity of the day based itself on us wanting to forget that time and everything in the world ceased to exist. We bonded. Sonya has been my roommate since August but April 4 was the first time we exclusively hung out. Besides the strangers we met along the way, we only interacted with each other the whole day. It was a day of feeling one with a city we never get to see because we are cooped up doing homework. It was a day where I did not have to schedule my life to a tee on my planner app. It was a day I learned more about the city than just by scrolling down my feeds.

I finally understood Pang’s philosophy. He said that the key to life is, “Living first, talking about it later. When you are doing interesting things, you don’t know what they are really about until later.”

If I live-tweeted Sonya and my adventure, I would not have experienced the feeling of being untamed. I realize that technology as a whole is not bad. But when it corrupts the way we function in means of freedom, it is a disease. We spend most of our lives looking at a screen than at the world around us. We focus on the distant instead of taking advantage of what is in front of us. Because of technology, we run so accordingly to time: the information that comes to us fastest, the people who we reach the quickest, and getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest amount of time. We base life on access. Before my day without technology, I allowed people to access me at any time. I would answer them as soon as I got a notification or ring. Sometimes, we need a reminder that life is evanescent and living in the now is the only way worth living.

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