Saturday marked the fourth full day that my phone had been dead. I realized this as I woke up that afternoon a little hungover, covered in sweat and glitter, alone in my small, hot apartment. My foggy but glamorous head decided that it was probably time to fix that and that having to get up to plug it in was just the price I’d have to pay for reentering the outside world of modern technology and lunch.
Later that evening, as the temperature cooled from the average 115 degrees to a rather balmy 95, I connected my 2010 Android phone to my apartment’s slow WiFi and opened Snapchat for the first time in a while.
I’ll never know what I miss in these gaps of going off-the-social-media-grid this spring semester I’ve been abroad. Living in the 21st century, as we do, our apps and sites are what keep us up-to-date and in touch. And since my iPhone got stolen the second night I was here in Thailand, I’ve been using my inconvenient, yet still usually reliable, backup phone. But it takes too much battery and data and unnecessary FOMO to be constantly connected.
This is not to say that being here in Southeast Asia hasn’t been an incredible experience that I’ve been lucky to have. In fact, I even think that not feeling so attached to America has allowed me to more fully invest in my experience here.
It’s just — I like the little things. The trivial, everyday things. The details. The scaly river monitor in the canal visible from our balcony late at night that’s been nicknamed Sylvester by my roommate. When the fruit cart around the corner has the yellow watermelon — which incidentally doesn’t taste as good as red watermelon but looks way cooler, for sure. The aging ladyboy that cuddles a lucky doll on a stone bench next to a bridge I walk over on my way to school.
But when I’m not in Berkeley, collectively experiencing the little things with the people I love back there, it’s kind of hard. A wordy Facebook message can’t convey how hilariously obnoxious that guy in your discussion section is, a filtered Instagram can’t really show how jealousy-inducingly delicious your Caffe Strada latte was and, quite honestly, an instantaneous yet ephemeral Snapchat can’t encapsulate anything from a night at Tap Haus. But even though I miss them, I let them live their Berkeley lives while I live mine in Bangkok.
And I’m okay with that. I’ll talk with my friends back home about the big things. We message about what they’re doing this summer, who they’re falling in love with, out of love with, how they did on their MCATs and GREs.
So I was surprised when I finally pulled open my Snapchat stories — the 24-hour highlight reel of Millenials’ lives — and realized that the 15-hour time difference meant that some of my friends were literally graduating. And I had completely forgotten.
That’s a big thing, I thought, and felt kind of bummed about it. How had I missed that?
I watched from afar, but in real time: People I had known my whole college careers, people I had met last semester, donning black robes and caps, smiling, hugging, chugging from Nalgenes of alcohol, laughing, getting up to pee way too many times, cheering, laughing some more and switching their tassels from one side to the other. And I saw in these — just little things. The everyday scenes that I had left, the small tokens of friendship and happiness and triumph, of sadness and fear and worry. Just in black robes with silly hats on.
To be melodramatic and self-involved about the rush of emotions I witnessed, my thoughts kept turning, of course, to myself. For my graduating friends, this wasn’t a very big deal. It was really just the final culmination of all of the little things they had done in Berkeley for the last few years. And that’s all I want: to be ready for these big things when they happen. I had been getting so caught up in the small moments that I was forgetting about the big things. But then, I had gotten so intimidated by these big things, these milestones, that I forgot all about the little things. It’s far easier to think of the little and the big as mutually exclusive.
I have a working theory that the cliche of a junior-year spring semester abroad exists for people who are trying to avoid the real world of “big things,” if only for a little bit. And I’m no exception. With only inklings of what I want to do after I graduate, it’s easier to focus on the quotidien selfie than the professional LinkedIn profile picture. But it’s nice to see that these monumental-seeming things are just symbols of everything that the little things have led to — at least that’s how it looks in Snapchats.