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.
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