It just so happened that I finished reading Bored and Brilliant the night before a work trip to San Francisco. I decided to do the challenge anyway despite being away from home and out of routine. Why delay? I was still taking my smart devices with me.
SF is a great place to be intentionally using your phone less. Day two of the challenge is to commute with your phone in your bag or somewhere away from your body. Don’t listen to music or a podcast. Just be in the world and the moment. The half-mile walk from my hotel to the office went from Union Square to SoMa. It’s a bustling trek that, without my noise-canceling headphones, was also noisy. I heard a wide range of accents. There was honking from cars and the beeps of trucks warning that they were moving in reverse. Mostly though, there were people to navigate around who were too fascinated with their phones to notice that they weren’t walking in a straight line or that they might slam into the person—me—in their path.
A man was so engrossed in Twitter that he failed to notice the light had changed or that people were walking all around him. I eavesdropped on many a facetime conversation on the street. One woman was so deep in her spirograph game (I’d never seen that one before) that she nearly stepped into oncoming traffic. It was sobering. I felt like I was on the Axiom in Wall-E, everyone so locked into their virtual worlds that we couldn’t see that life was going on right around us.
I’d done this challenge before. It began just a few weeks after I first came across the Note to Self podcast and this book is the outcome of that project. I think host Manoush Zomorodi is hella cool and whip-smart and if you read my weekly gratitude posts you know managing my digital diet is an ongoing obsession of mine.
On average, I spend about two hours a day looking at my phone. That doesn’t include iPad time which is probably another sixty to ninety minutes, if not more. That’s where I play the Star Wars game I’ve been hooked on since The Force Awakens came to theaters a couple of years ago. I wake my phone thirty to fifty times a day. This is actually better than most which is mind-boggling.
Twitter is my nemesis. It steals so much time and rarely do I depart it happier than when I arrived. And yet, I have my current job in part because of the connections made on Twitter. Twitter can be a place where casual relationships deepen or become more nuanced. Much can be said about the benefits of the service. But is it worth all of the time it sucks away? Is it worth not being able to sustain attention in an hour-long meeting? Or to be able to read a book? Or, sit quietly? Or think?
I don’t think it is. It’s no longer on my phone or my iPad—one of the challenges is to delete your most used app—and instead, I finished reading another book and gave some excellent television—American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace—my full attention. I spent time with people IRL. I went to the library. I’m writing this.
I’ve been able to ruminate on some issues I’ve wanted to fix with less itchy smartphone fingers.
An internal problem. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to solve. When I did this the first time, I felt great and more in control and then, I found some reason why I had to have twitter on my phone again. I stopped checking to see how much time I was spending idling on my devices. And in the weeks before I picked up the book, I was back to wondering where all my evening time was going. Why wasn’t I using that time to get more fluent in Spanish, or better at cooking, or learning new things, or, you know, talking with my wife or reaching out to a friend or loved one because I’d been thinking about them?
And so, here we are again. Will I use my time brilliantly or will I get sucked back into that dopamine high?