The Sinister Allure of the Cell Phone
It is a testament to how addicted I am to my iPhone, and its abundance of sadistically addicting apps that time and time again I will resolutely vow not to look at my phone for an extended period of time. I’ll catch myself mindlessly flipping through Facebook or Twitter, passively digesting a never-ending stream of information and opinion that is mildly amusing at best and rage-inducing at worst and writhe with guilty over all that wasted time and energy.
I’m not getting anything out of the experience. It’s worse than the fabled posts about sandwiches eaten: instead we get the same trite observations about pop culture, the same bloviating about politics and culture, the same hot takes and clickbait pandering, the same unbelievably depressing articles about the misdeeds of the cruelty of the Trump administration accompanied by outrage from me and my fellow leftists that can’t help but feel a little empty and pointless, like we’re howling into the wind and no one is listening.
I will come to the conclusion, yet again, that very little good can come from staring vacantly at my phone and filling my eyeballs and brain with empty sensation, but I stand to gain much by breaking my cell phone addiction so that I am more present in my day to day life, instead of perpetually distracted, living half in the real world and half online, in comfortingly, reassuringly shitty cyberspace.
Despite my resolution to put my phone away for a while and try out this whole “living” thing that I hear so much about, I literally find myself taking my phone out of my pocket and going right back to Facebook or Twitter forty or fifty seconds later. Many times I can’t even make it an entire minute without checking my phone.
I don’t know whether it makes it better or worse that scooping out my phone and zoning out on social media is purely instinctual, a matter of reflex rather than a conscious choice. I won’t think, “I said I wouldn’t look at my phone but I need to check this one thing.” It’s nowhere near that intentional. Instead, I’ll find myself inevitably staring at my phone no matter how fiercely I vow not to. It’s almost as if the phone has some weird supernatural pull over me and it can make my arm fish it out and my eyes gaze at it whether I want to or not.
That’s an exaggeration but my phone does undoubtedly have a strong psychological hold over me that’s overwhelmingly destructive and that I’d love to break. Social media encourages ugly emotions like jealousy and rage. It dumbs down discourse and pits users against each other. It’s a validation machine doling out an endless variety of Likes, re-tweets and shares but it’s a hopelessly broken validation machine that makes you feel like a failure and unloved as often as it does successful and appreciated.
We set ourselves fiercely on a path to misery when we make our happiness, contentment and sense of self dependent on external validation and how we’re viewed by other people and society as a whole. Yet social media encourages us to judge ourselves by such arbitrary external factors, and, perhaps even more poisonously, to judge ourselves by how others are doing as well, and to feel hopelessly less than if our lives do not measure up to those of someone we went to third grade with and seems to have a pretty sweet fucking life. And when has social media ever lied or worked overtime to create false impressions?
One of my all-time favorite books is Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, a scathing and convincing indictment of the way television over-consumption can stifle us emotionally and stunt our intellectual growths. One of its main arguments is that because, for example, a nightly news program will have segments on a Presidential assassination attempt, a celebrity turning 100, a wildfire, a baseball team winning the World Series and the suicide of a prominent scientist, we unconsciously put all of these wildly disparate events on equal footing and passively consume them as segments on the news.
The dynamic is even more extreme on Facebook, where the birth of a baby, an online nervous breakdown, news of a promotion and a tribute to a parent who just died all just wash over us, more information in a world and an internet that oftentimes seems to consist on nothing but filler. Empty, empty filler. Social media all but demands passive, empty consumption while actively discouraging thought, reflection and nuance.
Like any addiction, it’ll take more than simply stopping the troublesome activity to wean me off the cell phone. No, I’ll need to change my way of thinking and behaving as well, to reprogram my mind and my body to not reach for the phone compulsively, not because I have any real business to conduct on it, but rather just because it’s there and human beings, as a species, are easily bored.
It’ll be tough but it’ll be worth it, as I've heard rumors that there’s a great big beautiful world out there once you put down your fucking phone, and I'd sure like to find out for myself if that's true.
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