Thursday, February 27, 2014


I Will Not Soak It In

Last Monday I was on the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge, formerly known as the Bay Bridge, on the Amtrak bus. I was very high up and it was a beautiful afternoon—blue skies, sailboats, and the bridges brand-new steel symmetry were all working together in a magical way. On a scale from 1 to 10, I’d say my mood was about a 7, which is very good for me. At one point I started to text my friend, and then I looked around and saw that everyone on the bus—every single person—was looking at their phone. I said to myself, I am not going to be one of those people. I am going to look at San Francisco Bay. I am going to look at the contrast of white sails against blue water, steel arches reaching up to the heavens, at Alcaltraz and Angel Island sitting in the misty distance. I stared. I stared and stared. Soak it in, I commanded to myself. This is one of the finest views in the world. Plus, you are going to die one day, and you do not want your last words to be, “My phone!”

When we arrived in Oakland, there was less to look at. I took out my phone and started to text my friend. We were talking about Israel, which we both admitted we knew nothing about, and he told me one thing he knew and I told him one thing I knew, and we were like, OK, that’s enough. We talked about friends of ours who were going on a date. He wrote "hahaha" to something I said about that. I wrote "lol" (I’m not shy about "lol", I find "lol" much more gratifying than "hahahaha," personally) to a joke he made about reading the entire Bible, setting it down, and saying “What a bunch of assholes.” 

Now, truly, this was so much more fun than forcing myself to look at the view from the bridge. I was like, fuck the view from the bridge. When I was making myself look at it, I was bored. I know what it looks like, that water and sky are blue, that islands are green, that sailboats are white.  There’s no new information there. But this conversation had never taken place before, not exactly like this, and we would never be interested in these same things at the same time and be laughing at them the same way. I'm not saying another person wouldn't have liked the view more than the conversation, but I didn't need to be that person.

Now, you may say that the view from the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge, formerly known as the Bay Bridge, is never quite the same from one day to the next, either, but I’m here to tell you that, yeah, it pretty much is. And I will never force myself to appreciate it again. If I want to, I will, but it’s not mandatory. I’m the one making the rules around here. No more mandatory soaking it in. If I die on top of Machu Picchu texting "omg what a bitch" to the person standing next to me, I will not die ashamed.


Previously: House of Cards in One Day; or, A Tale of Bravery

Photo via johnkay/flickr.

Sarah Miller is the author of Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl. She lives in Nevada City, CA. Follow her on Twitter @sarahlovescali.

27 Comments / Post A Comment


"If I die on top of Machu Picchu texting "omg what a bitch" to the person standing next to me, I will not die ashamed."



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Sara Gaddis@facebook

This is disgustingly vapid. You say you were "bored", as if that were the sight's fault and not the fault of your truncated attention span, due to constantly staring at your device, broadcasting your uninformed opinions in 140 characters or less, and texting your fucking friend while you're standing right next to them. You ought to be ashamed.


@Sara Gaddis@facebook whoa, maybe people just find more personal meaning in the fleeting nature of conversations than in the view from a bridge they see every day. Maybe people just like their lives to have different flavors.


Has anyone else noticed that Sarah Miller's pieces seem to get really vitriolic responses? (Not just from the one-off/burner-account commentariat, although that does seem to be a sizable population interested in criticizing her writing.)


@Sara Gaddis@facebook You know, this one time, my mom bullied me into going and looking at these supposedly awe-inspiring sand dunes in New Mexico. I didn't have any cell service for roughly five hours while we were there, and ended up having to bail out in the middle of a really fantastic text conversation with a friend of mine who was living in Turkey at the time.

The sand dunes were giant piles of sand. My life was not enriched by seeing them. I was not blown away by the beauty of nature. I was, however, not happy when I got back into civilization and had five messages from my friend consisting of "hey, are you still there? oh. okay. i'm going to bed. i love you."

We didn't talk again for another three weeks, and we never finished our conversation. The sand dunes, though? They're still there and they're still fucking ugly.


@stonefruit Well noticed. Yes, true and weird.


@stonefruit That's true! Funny thing is that none of the messages offend me all that badly, but I still kind of feel like her posts are performance art--someone writing from the POV of Charlize Theron in Young Adult, perhaps.


@Sara Gaddis@facebook you must be so much fun at parties!


@alliepants yeah, her writing struck me the same way! It's not always for me, or what I'm looking for, but it seems like a long road from there to writing really over-the-top nasty comments about it.

vine fruit

@Sara Gaddis@facebook damnnnnn


I have been waiting for someone to say exactly these things (aside from me). I hate the "just live in the moment!" phone guilt too (aside from the obvious not looking at a phone when your attention should be paid to friend/family/date who is saying Things). I've heard it said by people who go places to see things they think are important and then say "...and all these people were just looking at/taking a picture of it through their phones." Just because I'm not in YOUR moment doesn't mean I'm not in A moment.


@TyrannosaurusWreck I genuinely don't understand how "taking a picture of it with your phone" is somehow less acceptable than taking a photo with a regular camera, or why I'm somehow experiencing "less" when I take a photo. I mean, yes, I have certainly encountered people who show up somewhere (a museum, a view, a historical site) and seem solely concerned with snapping a few pictures of themselves there and moving on, which I find bizarre (I take photos when I travel to document interesting things that I saw or did, but they are only part of the experience), but as long as they aren't actively interrupting my ability to enjoy the place, why is it my business?


@TyrannosaurusWreck "Just because I'm not in YOUR moment doesn't mean I'm not in A moment." I love that!

or Elsa!

For me, there are times to put away distractions and experience the moment, and times to let the sublime moments co-exist with the mundane. And I get to decide which moment is which.

I will put away diversions and let the moment – the view, the music, the sunset, the majesty – transport me when I want to, and woe to the person who chides me for choosing not to or instructs me to put away my phone or my book or my laptop and "soak it in."


@or Elsa! Yep. A friend of mine gently suggested that "being in the moment" was a better way to spend the few seconds I spent taking pictures of a concert a few years ago, and I was so annoyed. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but you're exactly right - I get to decide what kind of moment I'm in!


@or Elsa! My only real "in the moment" pet peeve is being in social contexts where other people are all sitting on their phones ignoring each other. If I'm going to take the time to put pants on and stuff for you, the least you can do is pay attention to me for like an hour. Or at the very least be like, "Oh, I'm sorry, my other friend is dealing with X so I'm going to be texting a bit while I'm with you."

Which isn't to say that I'm not totally guilty of it too sometimes, but I've been making an active effort lately to actually focus on my friends when I'm with them, instead of focusing on the Star Trek fanfic in my pocket.


True that! I'm with you. Though let me offer a trick that sometimes helps me "deactivate" from technology and happily take in and appreciate nature's beauty. Just give yourself a little boost. If it were me on that bus I'd have no problem soaking in that view if I was also at the same time, touching myself, discreetly, not toward fruition or anything, just a little stimulation. That or try eating something like chocolate or red vines.

Father Brown

@Father Brown Please somebody tell me you see this. Tell me I'm not alone.


@Father Brown

I see it. I see it!! What does it say about me though that the most confusing aspect of this is the concept of eating red vines... (?)


@Father Brown I am fascinated and delighted by this response! WHAT indeed.


My grandmother refuses to call the bridge anything other than the Bay Bridge (I think she mentioned something about the words not passing her cold dead lips, obviously she has no opinion about this at all) and it is worth noting only part of the bridge has been renamed.


@CMouse …does anyone call it anything else?


Every day on the commute home from my last job, I would get to see the sun set over the Boston skyline. And some days I really liked setting my book (didn't have a smart phone at the time) aside and looking out the window. But other days I had seen the sunset before and I just wanted to keep reading. There is nothing wrong with that. We don't need to look at everything all the time!


@SarahP I realized as I typed this that the technology aspect is maybe what bothers the "soak it in" people the most. Would a "soak it in" person judge me for reading through a sunset? Probably not. (Even if it's something trashy!) But looking at a phone somehow is less okay to some people.

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