When we use our phones out of habit or anxiety or boredom, not including those cases where we require the phone’s services for some pressing practical reason, here is what we’re actually doing:

  1. We’re voting to devalue the present. We’re saying we’re not happy with where we are and how we feel at the moment. We’re affirming that we’d rather be somewhere else.

  2. We’re playing the lottery. We’re rolling the dice. We’re hoping we’ll win the jackpot and receive, out-of-the-blue, an email that offers us the job we want, or a text that praises us in the way we to be praised. We’re hoping we’ll read a news story that introduces us to a fact that’s so riveting and transformative that it releases us from the everyday burdens of life.

  3. We’re choosing disembodiment. At any instant, we can move in the direction of being more connected, or less connected to our physical selves. If we’re using our phones, we’re choosing to be less connected to our physical selves.

  4. We’re choosing avoidance. What are we avoiding?

  5. We’re deferring calm. We’re saying that we can’t fully relax until the email arrives or the text comes through that we’re waiting for. We can’t settle down until the news story is updated. So we will check again, and again later.

  6. We’re sacrificing intention. We’re saying we don’t want to figure out what to do on our own, so please, phone, please give us something to latch onto.

  7. We’re ignoring our “inner news.” We’re saying that world news, or social media noise, delivered through our phone, is more important than the “news” we could ascertain by tuning into our inner selves and our immediate physical surroundings.

  8. We’re training ourselves to be less present for others. We’re getting ourselves addicted to a level of effortless screen-based stimulation that real-world human interaction rarely provides. We’re making it harder for ourselves to connect to other people face-to-face and we’re making it harder for them to connect to us.

  9. We’re eating a high-calorie dessert. For the thirtieth time in a day. And expecting to feel OK. Instead of doing one more “rep” of the exercise of concentration.

  10. We’re using a sadness machine. And we’re blindly expecting the sadness machine to produce something other than sadness.

But if we choose not to take out our phones, we can celebrate, because we’ve avoided all that. We’ve bypassed all of those many traps, all those many spiraling vortices of despair. The people in our lives will be getting a bit more of our presence and attention thanks to this choice. The projects we’re working on, will be getting better concentration from us. And our future selves will be getting a better foundation in which to thrive.

Notes: For more on this topic, I recommend the book The Power Of Off by Nancy Colier. The lottery analogy in point two is adapted from there. The book A World Without Email by Cal Newport is also informative. ■

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