Smartphone Detox Day 1: Phantom Limb

Yesterday evening I sat with my family at our dinner table, watching them do the same old thing: fork, eat, repeat… and I was bored out of my skull. I’m not a person who gets bored, or I never used to be. My mind was always curious, always turning, wondering about life and the situations that arise within it and between people. But in this instance, I was stiff with disinterest. I wanted to run out of the house and down the street, tear my own hair out while screaming at the top of my lungs “get me out of here!”…or just go into my bedroom and hang out on my phone.

“Hang out on my phone”. What is that about?! I woke up this morning at 3am and reached for my Samsung to check the time. I suspect my hand will be doing that a lot today: reaching. But it won’t find anything because I’m cutting myself off. Unless the phone ACTUALLY RINGS, I’m not using it. My world has become flat. A flat screen of desires and addictions that doesn’t, in my opinion, constitute a real life. I’d say I’m something of a detached observer but I’m no longer even observing, I’m just living in my phone. Which is A LOT to say when I speak about someone who writes for a living: Part of my inspiration comes from observing and then taking those observations and distilling them into something tangible through words, but how can I do that when I’ve got my face stuck to a screen. The world is being distilled for me, through a lens of creeping subliminal consumerism and illusory importance. I feel very strange.

I use my phone so much now that it’s become my GO TO: I go to it for research on just about everything from ancestry searches to scholarly articles, recipes, texting, snapping, instasharing, tweeting. I watch tv and movies on my phone, I play mystery games and create bitmojis. I record calories, set alarms, pull up the family calendar, schedule poker nights and birthday parties. I take pictures and videos of my kids. I shop for clothes and household items. I register my company and pay taxes. Yesterday my husband took a picture of himself using my phone and set it on my home and lock screens. I wonder if he was trying to tell me something.

Two years ago I experienced Facebook Liberation. I deleted my account, deleted the app, vowed never to go back on Facebook, scotch taped a cookie fortune to the wall declaring FACEBOOK LIBERATION and called it a day. And it stuck. This time. I had tried it a couple of times before in previous years but to no avail. The thing is, you can delete your account but it’s still there, hovering in cyberspace, waiting for you to break down and come back. Waiting to suck you dry like a vampire: This “smart” world needs our participation in order to exist.

I know I’m an all or nothing person. I’m extreme. It’s my nature. I’ve tried to live in other ways, in more balanced ways, but I’m so inherently intense that I’m either all in or I fold. I either go to the gym at 5:30 in the morning or I don’t go at all. I either eat ten small Halloween chocolate bars or none. I drink the bottle of wine or I don’t drink. I go out for supper and order the lobster or I don’t go out. So when it comes to the smartphone it seems that I’m always using it or I’ve got to treat it like, dare I say it, a rotary phone (raise your hand if you know what that is!). And even though I’m prone to this kind of behavior, I don’t think this is entirely my fault.

In an article titled The Binge Breaker in this month’s The Atlantic, Bianca Bosker writes about Tristan Harris, former product philosopher at Google and the co-founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group championing integrity in software design. Harris claims that software designers exploit our psychological vulnerabilities and that today’s apps are created to entice us and addict us into scrolling as much as possible. “Our generation relies on our phones for our moment-to-moment choices about who we’re hanging out with, what we should be thinking about, who we owe a response to, and what’s important in our lives,” he said. “And if that’s the thing that you’ll outsource your thoughts to, forget the brain implant. That is the brain implant. You refer to it all the time.”

My daughter said to me yesterday: “Mommy, put your phone down.” I’m going to do more than that. I’m going to get my life back. So if you’re reading this post and I haven’t responded to your text message, you know why. I will however answer the phone if it rings. 4:49am. Here goes!