We Used To Just Live Cover

We Used To Just Live

I remember simpler times.

I remember a time when I woke up every morning and didn’t immediately know what time it was. Sometimes, I looked at the clock on my nightstand. Sometimes, I didn’t. I just…woke up. That was my task for the first few minutes of the day. Wake up. Realize that it’s another day. Another day that would be good or bad, long or short, slow or fast, but another day that would be, above all, full of life. Not devices and tools and to-dos. Life.

There was no sleep app tracking how I’d slept that night, and I wasn’t freaking out about what it meant for my long-term health if the stats weren’t good. There was no wristband on my arm, showing me my heart rate and alarming me to the fact that I had taken zero steps thus far. There was no sleek glass screen, behind the gates of which lay an entire universe to get lost in. A universe of unanswered messages, scary events in places I’d never seen, and more distractions than both heaven and hell could offer.

I remember mornings without music. I brushed my teeth, took a shower, made my hair, and got dressed. I was so bored with my routine that, magically, I started thinking about the day ahead. What subjects did we have in school today? What topics would we discuss? What do I know about those already? And what questions do I have? Which of my friends would I see at recess? What stories did I want to tell them? By the time I left the house, I was lost in thought all the same. But I was invested in the day. Fully engaged in what’s to come. Excited about the opportunities I’d get, the people I’d meet.

Since I had no time machine in my pocket, I couldn’t spend my commute longing for the past or hoping for the future. I had no investment portfolio to refresh by the second, no Amazon wish list, no 2,500 photos to scroll through. I couldn’t reminisce about a girl’s profile pic on WhatsApp, wondering why her last message came 67 days ago. I couldn’t check Telegram, hoping for a piece of news that would give me an edge. I was just…there. Sitting. Taking a 45-minute bus ride that would’ve taken 15 by car, but loving it anyway because it gave me time to think or be with my friends.

I remember working without computers. I still have some of my school and college books. I remember poring over them, flicking, marking, running my finger across the page. Trying so hard to find the right graphic, the right number, the right fact to extract the answer that I needed. I remember haggling for the last copy of a dusty old volume in our tiny school library, the contents of which the internet will never see. We had workbooks. Fill-in-the-blank texts. Empty sketches, waiting for us to label them.

Was it more efficient than googling? Of course not. But it was thorough. Learning required a love for detail, a commitment to completing the ordeal to get the lesson. Now, I can just watch a perfect 7-minute animation video on each topic. It’s faster and easier, but where’s the gumption in that? Where’s the stubbornness to see it through? Often, it’s not there. So I watch the video on 1.5x speed and don’t pay attention. Or skip to the next one, and the next one, and the next one, until I just give up, having learned nothing at all.

I remember calling my friends to arrange play dates. And actual dates. And Friday night slumber parties. I even remember calling them just to talk. Nowadays, the choice between a green and red button next to any person’s name on my display makes me look like a deer caught in headlights. Often, I don’t press anything. I just wait and text back. Oh, what my grandparents would have given to talk to their friends without restrictions. Meanwhile, I’m here rejecting the chance like a bad cup of coffee. “This? Really? No thanks.”

Getting pizza with your buddies or girlfriends shouldn’t feel like building La Sagrada Família, but since communication is so fast, easy, and cheap, no one feels obligated to communicate anymore at all. If you haven’t replied to the group message, no one can hold you to anything. Who knows? Something or someone better might show up last-minute. If and when they do, you only need to fire a brief “I’m out” into the ether, never having to deal with broken hearts and hurt feelings. But those hearts and feelings are still there. Of course we’re mad when no one responds! Of course we’d rather look forward to a date than anxiously wait to be let down at the last second. Technology might shield us from some of the fallout of poor relationships, but radiation is still toxic. If we don’t deal with it, our relationships will still be poor.

I remember spending my afternoons on whatever I felt like, not whatever felt most urgent. I didn’t prioritize my spare time, and I didn’t think of fun as something you could have in degrees. You can’t. You just have it or you don’t, and if you do, it doesn’t matter what the activity is. I played video games for hours one day and practiced soccer tricks till dusk the next. Everything was amazing because it was all one big journey, and I was the explorer in charge. I could steer the ship in one direction for a moment and then turn it right back around. No one would care, least of all me.

Now, I’m thinking, “What would give me the most satisfaction? How can I squeeze the most pleasure out of the little time I have?” and the only thing that does is ruin relaxation altogether. I have lists and lists of lists, and I feel trapped inside this bucket list video game without the ability to turn it off. Work is more fun than having fun because rewards don’t feel like rewards if that’s the main function they serve. Where is the reset button? I want my captain’s hat back.

I remember cherishing technology because it wasn’t ubiquitous. Every time I made another call or sent another text, a robot voice would tell me, “you have 43 cents left on your account.” I was thrilled at the thought that this message mattered because it would be the last one for a while. A green timer flared up whenever I logged on to the internet. It made me feel like I was entering the Matrix. So much to learn, so little time. Browse wisely, my friend. I’ll see you on the other side, offline again. Return with precious gifts.

That’s what it was, wasn’t it? We were traveling between two worlds. One minute you were online, the next you were off. A messenger, carrying information from the digital realm into reality. Now, the line between the two has completely disappeared. Which one are we in? When did we leave? How did we get here? Two universes, two parallel timelines, and we’re not in charge. No wonder it feels like we’re torn. Split minds, split attention, split presence. We need to unite again. Embrace our role as humans. Messengers. With sound minds, sound bodies, and an understanding of where borders lie. Where they should be. Why we cross them. Our own as much as technology’s.

I remember simpler times. I’m not saying everything was better. Just that life seemed less blurry. Not all days were beautiful, but a lot of them felt…lighter. That’s what I want. Not the moment or the people or the memory. The feeling.

I want my lightness back. That lightness is the truest feeling I know.

Maybe, that’s what this is about. Not peace or nostalgia but truth. When I feel light, I’m not concerned with how or what or who. I just am. Authentic. I do. Somewhere in that lightness hides the best version of myself. It didn’t use to, because at some point, it was my default mode of living. I don’t know how or when or why, but now, I’m concerned with finding it again.