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A Digital Girl Living in an Analog World

Written By: Erin Belair

Photographed By: Jenavieve Belair

My assignment for this issue was to live for one week with the technology that was available in 1975. This meant I had to give up everything from my Starbucks skinny vanilla latte to my Twitter account. I was slightly apprehensive going into it, but I took on the project with enthusiasm and fully committed to the experiment. I wanted to experience a simpler way of life, while also coming to a new appreciation for the things I have and the way this world works these days. The following pieces are excerpts of journal entries kept during the week of Sept. 13, “1975.”

Monday, September 13, 1975

I am the epitome of “plugged in” to this digital world we all inhabit. I start every day by turning on Pandora to my Paul Simon station checking my email, Facebook ad Twitter account. Sometimes this all happens before I even get out of bed; I see the world wide web before the light of day more often than not. So today, on my first day of living in “1975, ” I lay in bed for much longer than I would normally allow myself. My cell phone’s no longer functioning as an alarm clock. As I struggle with how to begin my day, something becomes painfully obvious to me — My bedroom is a creative wasteland.

I moved in nine months ago and there is still an unpacked box in the corner, my walls are completely bare, and aside from the bookcase I salvaged and decoupaged over the summer, there is not one ounce of creativity in the entire space. I lay there a few moments longer and wonder how something so glaringly obvious in the bright September sun could go unnoticed by me for so long. I wonder what else I am not picking up on.

I paint the west-facing wall of my bedroom “Star City, ” a beautiful color of the blue family falling somewhere between turquoise and aquamarine. I clean the place from top to bottom and by the end of the day I am tired and covered in paint, but my room and my life feel clean and uncluttered for the first time in a long time.

To unwind I head into the living room to watch a movie. I start to make popcorn, but while punching buttons on the microwave I realize I cannot use it and then I am instantly reminded that I cannot watch a DVD. I laugh out loud at myself and how quickly I disregard my new set of rules. I instead make a cup of tea on the stove and curl up on the couch with a new book.

So there begins this week. This idea-altering, space-defining, time-changing week in 1975.

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Tuesday, September 14, 1975

I spent the morning running errands, which seemed like an easy enough task at first. I am such a creature of habit that I even pull in and park at Starbucks before realizing I had given up fancy chain coffee establishments. Sluggishly I move on with my day. I remember that I cannot use my debit card so I go to the bank and go inside for the first time in ten years to withdraw money from a real live human bank teller. The gentleman behind the counter takes a liking to me and makes me laugh through the whole transaction. I leave thinking we all need more human interaction in our daily lives.

I spend all the cash on fruits and vegetables at Growers Ranch on 20th and Tustin. As I fill my cart I experience what I have now coined as “phantom cell phone syndrome.” I reach for my phone constantly only to remember I don’t have one. I have a similar experience every time I get into my car and start to turn on a CD. The first few times it happens  I feel anxious, but as the day continues and the symptoms subside, I begin to feel calm and at peace with being unplugged.

In the evening when I would normally be watching recorded episodes of Glee, my boyfriend and I decide to go down to the beach near our old apartment for dinner and a nice walk. We go to burger night at Newport Landing and have veggie burgers and Stellas. We laugh, talk and connect on a level that I know is not just in my head. With no distractions from the outside world we enjoy each other’s company being truly alone for the first time, in a long time. The beach breeze comes through the window carrying that slight chill of a September evening and we enjoy an incredibly relaxing meal. Afterwards, we stroll through the fun zone, people watch, and play like two teenagers. Watching the bright lights of Newport Beach across the bay, I realize that I have forgotten how lucky I am to live here. I think we all forget from time to time. So lucky, so very, very lucky.

Wednesday, September 15, 1975

The silence in my life this week is killing me. I love music. I listen to music in the car, while I run, while I shower and any other appropriate and sometimes no so appropriate moments of the day. So I thank the music gods when I remember that I have a great vinyl collection that for one reason or another doesn’t get played nearly as much as it should. What better time than now to bring it back to life? I spend the entire morning going through the records and listening to some classics. My favorite for the day is Jim Croce, his delicious lyrics and ‘70s melodies are enough to put anyone in the best of moods. I turn it up and dance around my house like I have not only lost my mind, but all my inhibitions as well. Sometime between the running man and the moonwalk, a lovely friend of mine knocks on the door, knowing that stopping by this week may be the only way to reach me. She is heading to the beach and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my afternoon. We lay in the warm sand between 50th and 51st for hours letting the September sun give its love to our bikini-clad bodies. My iPod is sitting in my beach bag and I fight the urge to listen to it. I start to relax more while listening to the crashing waves and I drift away into thoughts of yesterdays.

In the evening I go to work serving tables for the first time this week. Nothing is different, everyone wants something, and no one says thank you these days. However, with no cell phone to constantly check I notice I am better at my job. I stay at tables for longer and make good conversation; I get my side work done in half the time and nearly every tip is 20 percent. Success.

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Thursday, September 16, 1975

I feel like someone who has quit smoking and is finally starting to taste food again. I think the constant inundation of technology has had me numbed for some time now to the real world moving around me. How much beauty has passed unnoticed by me over the years? I enjoy every meal now rather than inhaling them. I pay more attention to everything from my conversations to the colors of the sky. I literally stop to smell the flowers. And even though it takes longer to do most things, I have to come home every time I want to make a phone call because there are no pay phones in sight. Time seems to have taken on new qualities as well. My days actually feel longer and time seems to have slowed form a neck-breaking pace to a more enjoyable slight jog.

I come to these conclusions while taking a walk from my house to Every Bloomin Thing, a flower stand on the corner of Westminster and 17th Street. I spend thirty minutes picking out flowers and creating a beautiful bouquet of purples and blues. I put them on my desk in my bedroom and admire how far the space has come this week. I sit down and spend the rest of the afternoon writing a really good piece of fiction (on my typewriter). I feel balance and at peace. The balance and peace, however, quickly dissipate when I think about editing the piece which has more mistakes than a fourth grader’s first essay. With no spell check and no delete button, I gain an entirely new level of respect for all those writers that came before me and my Mac laptop.

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Friday, September 17, 1975

As Friday has slowly come sauntering into the room, I am amazed by how long this week has lasted. I feel like I have been on a vacation. I have been operating on a new level of serenity and with a new sense of clarity. I decide to reward myself by going shopping. I spend the entire afternoon hitting adorable boutiques spread across Orange County. I spend an obscene amount of money on high-wasted skirts and flowing blouses. Shopping for me is normally split between browsing and talking on my phone. This day was devoted entirely to the fashion gods. I run into a friend leaving the store and when she asks me where I have been all week, I tell her, “I’m on vacation.”

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Saturday, September 18, 1975

Some things never change. A weekend is just as a weekend in 1975, as it is in the 2000s. It’s official; enjoying good times with good friends is timeless. I spend the morning sipping mimosas at The Cannery and laughing with friends I haven’t seen all week. I order the crème brulee French toast, and I savor every sweet bite as if it were the last. The rest of the day slips by like the boats in the bay.

Sunday, September 19, 1975

As the week comes to a close, I carry several feelings around with me. I am excited to plug back into life, mostly because I miss taking pictures and blogging. I miss the ease of making plans on the go, listening to music in my car and watching more than four channels on TV. While I have gained an appreciation for the ease technology brings to life, I have also found a new inner peace. I am not sure I am ready for the beeping and buzzing of text messages and emails. I am apprehensive about reentering, but ready or not it will come for me.

For my last day in “1975” I send the week off in style by spending the morning at the Lido Farmers Market. I wear a new sun hat and I stroll around picking up so many things I never knew I always needed. My favorite purchases are an organic jar of honey and a lovely cluster of sunflowers. In the afternoon my boyfriend plays his guitar in the backyard while I grill vegetables. We sing a Paul Simon song together, and I learn I can sing rather well. Maybe if we could stay in “1975” I would become a folk singer. The sun sets, and “1975” slips away while we talk and laugh over two bottles of red wine and a record spinning in the other room.

I think the moral of the story is not that you should abandon your Blackberry or disconnect completely from society, because you may lose your job, and your friends may hate you. The point is to find a balance. A balance that I had to spend a week in “1975” to find so that you do not have to. Spend some time every day unplugged, be it a few moments or the entire evening. You might be really surprised by what you find both within yourself and the world around you. I know I was.

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