Monday Phone

Kanye West is a genius1. At least when it comes to making music. And maybe shoes. Being good at one thing, however, does not mean you are good at all things. Kanye West is also an idiot2. But before he lost touch with reality, I used to follow him on Twitter. Like most things on Twitter, his tweets are largely nonsense sprinkled with the occasionally useful insight. There is one tweet3 in particular that has stuck with me for a while: kanye tweet

The analogy, while intriguing, is a little unfair. A phone is not so much a tool anymore as it is a tiny dopamine machine. If a hammer could reward us for walking around with it all day we would probably have pants with hammer-sized pockets by now. The fact that our brain rewards us for using our phone is exactly why so many of us are addicted. Now this might be a strong word. And it certainly doesn't apply to everyone4. For me, though, it's not too far off. As many who know me would probably attest, I am staring into my phone far too often. I am very much aware of this, even while I'm doing it. Unfortunately, this awareness does not make it any easier to stop. So in an effort to both examine and interrupt this behavior, I've started a new practice this year. For 24 continuous hours each week5, I turn my phone off6.

I'm not exactly trying to blame my phone for anything here. The behavior is my own, and that of dissociation and poor impulse control. The phone just makes it easy to indulge these behaviors. And it's not just the phone, of course, there are other forms of distraction. And so the TV stays off as well. The laptop stays on but is used in a very limited capacity7. Instead of turning everything off for a day, I could spread it out and just reduce my average use per week. This is actually really a good goal to have. But is one that I treat and track separately. At face value, both are a form of moderation. However, I find that they are quite different in terms of both effect and execution.

When it comes to making a choice, not all choices are equal. And even when they are equal (to pick up the phone or not), circumstances can make them again unequal. Choices are made harder, if not impossible, by where we are at (physically, emotionally, etc.8) at a given time. Because of this, living in moderation moment-to-moment requires a more constant diligence and consistent force of will. It's best to leverage inertia as an advantage. Making the choice to go a whole day without the phone requires a single application of will. If I've already gone all morning not using my phone, it's easier to continue. On the flip side, if I've gone all hour using my phone, it's harder to stop. For me at least, it is harder to put the phone down for ten minutes every hour than it is to put it down for one day per week. When it comes to addiction, tapering can be harder (or at least less effective) than cold turkey.

Unlike with a real addiction, I don't plan on actually "quitting" my phone. That would be impractical9, like quitting food to lose weight. And while fasting (in the food sense)10 is something I do fairly regularly, I'm not doing it because I think skipping a few meals will help me lose weight. I do it because it helps remind me what hunger is (in terms of both feeling and purpose) and interrupts whatever eating pattern I've fallen into lately (eating out too much, snacking, sweets, etc.). I get a sense for how my body and mind react to not eating. A full day without food provides a lot more opportunity for perspective, insight, and reflection than can be had from just skipping desert. And all of this serves to make me more intentional and mindful when it comes to eating in my day-to-day. This all applies to the digital fast as well. The only practical difference being that calories are a real need while screen time is not.

Still, unavoidably, choice will continue to live in the moment. And so, in the end, both forms of moderation are required. One cannot be a substitute for the other. And, truly, it is in all the little moments that the real victories are had. When I find that my will is faltering and I'm getting stuck in a bad pattern, a good fast can always provide a nice reset and some perspective. As of writing these last few lines, it's been 24 hours since I've had anything to eat or looked at my phone. As it turns out, I'm not really thinking about my phone but I am very hungry. And that's a good reminder.

  1. Source: Kanye West. 

  2. VIA 

  3. See this search for additional context and related tweets. 

  4. My dad, for example, will often leave the house to run errands and not take his phone with him(!) 

  5. It's usually on Monday 

  6. Originally, I had the idea that I'd include a description of the mechanics of going phone-less but removed them for the sake of focusing on the actual topic. I'm including some FAQ here for the curious. 1) Q: "What if someone needs to contact you??" A: It's kinda funny that one of the last things we use our phone for is calling someone. At any rate, I still get Face Time, email, and text messages on my laptop. If I really need to contact someone, I'll turn the phone on briefly for this purpose. 2) Q: "How do you do your 7 minute workout or time your meditations??" A: Kitchen timer!{: .islink}. 3) Q: "What about maps, don't you get lost??" A: Yes, I do get lost. 4) Q: "What about the weather??" A: It's going to sound really pretentious if I tell you I just go outside. 5) Q: "What if something happens????" A: Nothing ever happens. Not really. 

  7. E.g. to write this post, also see FAQ6 above 

  8. Not to mention socio-economically. It is much easier for Kanye to go without a phone because there are people who he employs to make sure he does not miss anything important. Similarly, it is much easier for me to go a day without my phone because I do not have any considerable outside obligation like work, spouse, child. 

  9. OR WOULD IT?!? 

  10. Real fasting inspires digital fasting.