Pause icon

I haven’t posted here for a while and didn’t send out a newsletter last month. While I’ve plenty of energy for other projects, I don’t have much for Thought Shrapnel at the moment.

That may change, or it might not. Either way, I’m hitting pause here for a while.

There are just bodies, just us

Two books to add to my reading list, courtesy of this excellent review and analysis

Illness, I think, is a temporality — and not, as Susan Sontag famously posited in Illness as Metaphor, a place, where everyone holds dual citizenship between the kingdoms of sickness and health and can pass between the two. The truer statement, it seems to me, belongs to Gilda Radner, who died young of ovarian cancer: “It’s always something.” Constantly dealing with those somethings takes time, and you can no longer even pretend that your life will go along in an orderly, productive way. But does anyone’s? I’ve come to realize that the bifurcation between the sick and the well, the disabled and the able-bodied, is capitalism’s intervention. In reality, there are just bodies, just us.

Two books published this fall trouble the binary between sickness and health. Health Communism, by Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant, wholly refutes the possibility of being healthy under capitalism. The Future is Disabled, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, argues that to meet a future full of catastrophe, we need to think and act like disability activists. These books want to talk about sickness as a source of solidarity, and a way forward out of our current, very unwell state.


Separating out the well and worthy workers from the sick and unproductive surplus class is one of capitalism’s more insidious divide-and-conquer tactics. We all know the person who brags about not taking one sick day in 20 years. But if capital separates the workers from the unwell, capitalists still manage to profit from both. The state, which could sustain the sickened surplus, instead neglects them, and the private health care sector steps in to profit. Adler-Bolton and Vierkant coin the term “extractive abandonment,” (a variation on Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s description of the carceral system as “organized abandonment”) to describe how public subsidies flow to privatized facilities offering substandard care, from for-profit nursing homes to prisons. As a result, those in need of care are less likely to receive it where they could thrive, let alone exercise their self-determination. Instead, they are shunted into a “warehouse” of care, a “public-private partnership of pure immiseration.”

Source: Is Anyone Ever Well? – Lux Magazine

Smoking as an analogy for unthinking phone use

Even if, like me, you turn all but the most important notifications off, it’s easy to get used to there being something new on your phone when you’re bored. Or waiting. Or feeling anxious.

If there isn’t something new there that’s immediately accessible, it becomes more boring. I haven’t had social media apps on my phone for years, but last week I logged out of several social networks in my mobile and desktop browsers.

You’ve got to replace these things with a habit, though. So I’ve now books next to the places I tend to sit and scroll. To be honest, even playing on my Steam Deck is a better use of my time than most scrolling I do on social networks.

About twenty years later — last week — I found myself sitting at my kitchen table, mechanically upvoting and downvoting hot takes on Reddit when I realized I had been aimlessly thumbing my phone for at least twenty minutes. I was vaguely aware that I had not yet done the thing that caused me to reach for my phone in the first place, and could no longer remember what it was.

Even though I get caught up like that all the time, the nihilism of that particular twenty minutes really got to me. It was such a nothing thing to do. I said aloud what I was thinking: “That… was a total loss.”

Basically I had just aged myself by twenty minutes. Two virtual cigarettes, and not even a fading buzz to show for it. I learned nothing, gained nothing, made no friends, impacted the world not at all, did not improve my mood or my capacity to do anything useful. It was marginally enjoyable on some reptile-brain level, sure, but its ultimate result was only to bring me nearer to death. Using my phone like that was pure loss of life — like smoking, except without the benefits.


I’m not trying to make a moral appeal, only a practical one. It doesn’t necessarily follow that frivolous phone use is bad or wrong. It’s unwise, and we already know that it’s unwise. But perhaps it is as unwise as smoking. Perhaps indulging the urge to browse Reddit after checking your email is just as reckless and self-destructive as lighting up a Marlboro 100 after breakfast, and will one day be seen with all the same revulsion and taboo.

Only you know how resonant this proposition is for you. If you lose ten, twenty, or thirty minutes to frivolous phone use on a multiple-times-daily basis (I sure do), it might make sense to regard it as belonging to a much higher stratum of concern than we tend to assume. Instead of grouping it with I-probably-shouldn’t-but-who-cares sorts of behaviors, like rewatching barely-worthwhile TV shows or kicking off your shoes without untying them, perhaps it belongs with possibly-catastrophic vices like daily deep-fried lunch, road raging, or smoking.

Source: Most Phone Use is a Tragic Loss of Life | Raptitude