I dropped my phone off at the tech repair place in Middlebury yesterday and the woman who works there and I had a conversation about flip phones.
I love it when this happens. When the pendulum starts its swing back to begin the process of righting things that have gone too far in one direction. I don’t think I have to explain that this is a woman who works with pieces of technology all day long, a woman who knows the game inside and out, literally.
I think I might have said something like, “Listen if this happens to fall in a vat of water, no worries …” to which she replied, “I know, I’m ready to get rid of my phone, too.”
It’s addiction, straight out. Try to leave the house today without your phone. You can’t. You won’t. That’s addiction.
Gerald May, Addiction and Grace: I am not being flippant when I say that all of us suffer from addiction. Nor am I reducing the meaning of addiction. I mean in all truth that the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods, fantasies, and an endless variety of other things. We are all addicts in every sense of the word. Moreover, our addictions are our own worst enemies.
We are all, each one of us, addicted to our phones and we know it. The creators of the devices and applications intended for us to be this way. The experiment is working.
Look around you today. Notice how close everyone keeps their phone. It’s either in a pocket, in a hand or somewhere in reaching distance. And they have activated sounds, bells and whistles, to train themselves to respond to the phone all day long.
The hundredth meaningless text? The phone call from the telemarketer? The list of names of people who have “liked” something you did and would have done anyway, with or without all those hearts and likes? Why are you attached to what other people think about how you live your life?
When was the last emergency? How often last month did you actually, truly … come on now … need your phone?
How often does it get in the way of your ability to have true human contact? When were you using your phone when you could have been talking directly to someone? When were you using your phone for text or email in a cowardly way, when you could have had a conversation with another person, looking into their eyes, seeing their face?
How often are you missing the world around you because you’re doing something with your phone? Taking a picture or video to post later?
How much time do you spend on your phone doing things that are meaningless? Looking at other people’s Facebook or Instagram lives? YouTube videos?
See if you can make an honest assessment of that. And if you’re not sure and you have an iPhone, you can activate Screen Time and it will track that for you. It will tell you how often you pick up your phone and what you’re doing with it. I guarantee you will be astonished and ashamed by what you learn.
So let me place you in a little scenario today. You are dying. The doctor tells you you have cancer. Now you know how you’re going to die and you have a general timeframe: a year, maybe more maybe less.
Only you know how many hours a day you spend on your phone. Google the studies; they’re terrifying: the average American picks up their phone 52 times a day … the average adult spends 11 hours a day interacting in some way with media.
We won’t go there in our little scenario because that’s basically the entire day and that’s too depressing to contemplate, so we’ll imagine that you spend … 4 hours a day using your phone, which is actually very conservative.
That’s about 30 hours a week, 120 hours a month, 1500 hours a year.
What that means is that you’ve wasted 60 days of your year on your phone. Conservatively. If you’re OK with that then something’s wrong.
Let’s imagine you’ve been doing that for about ten years when the diagnosis comes. Now, I’m no math expert, but I think that means you’ve wasted 600 days of your life doing not much of anything of worth, looking at your phone.
So now we have the cancer diagnosis, the winding down of your days here on this magnificent planet filled with interesting, gorgeous humans, animals and plants, mountains, rivers, alleyways, barns, bugs, stars, babies, food I could do this all day this world is so captivating and amazing and you only get a little bit of time in it and I say this all the time so I’m getting really tired of reminding you about it although I will keep reminding you because you’re going to spend four plus hours on your phone today anyway.
I bet you’d like to have those 600 days back now.
How would you fill your days if you could have them back? Sitting and talking with your mom. Walking in the park with your kid and talking with them. Helping someone. Eating a meal with your friend. Getting that project done. Looking at art in a museum. Talking to a stranger. Learning how to do something new. Riding your bike into town. Sitting quietly looking at the world around you. Sitting and talking with your mom.
You don’t need me to give you ideas about how to fill your days with meaningful stuff. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
There is good news: if you’re reading this then it’s not too late.
I could have gotten my repaired phone back last night. But I didn’t. I can go get it today, but I’m not. Will I grab it tomorrow when I drive through Middlebury? I’m not sure yet. That’s how great it is to have that largely unnecessary, expensive and intentionally fragile, designed to make us all into assholes device gone.