Somewhere along the way, my phone got out of hand.
Rather, it was never out of my hand.
Alarm chimes. Hand goes to phone. Depending on the latest incoming message a cobalt or green-means-go light flashes from the top right corner of my phone, a tiny beacon. Before I’m even awake my fingers are stubbing out the unlock code, skimming across the screen; my half-shut eyes are skimming Guardian headlines or reading messages.
At some point I roll out of bed and head downstairs to start coffee, phone firmly in hand. While the kettle boils I’m scanning email or Tweeting. The cat, my partner, and my mental health are all forgotten in an urgent need to catch up on Instagram.
Friday night, Chris and I were sitting side by side. I was absorbed in my phone. He said something. I wasn’t listening. As I struggled to tune in to reality, it occurred to me what a waste it to substitute a smartphone for human interaction. What was I going to miss? Another blast of bad news, a Gap e-flyer, a handful of photos by people I’ve never met and probably never will. In other words, nothing. Nothing of value, nothing of note, nothing that substitutes for time spent with someone I love.
So I turned my phone off and said: “I’m having a break.”
Saturday morning, I woke up before Chris. With my phone switched off, I reached for my Kindle and read a couple of chapters before coffee. Without the distraction of my phone, I had time to meditate for a few minutes. I read a chapter of Epictetus and mused on it.
We went for a long walk, looping through Overton Park and back to the house through the Evergreen Historic District. In the afternoon we did errands and talked. Came home, had a glass of rose and discussed plans for the coming months.
There were a few times I missed my phone: in the car, sans Spotify; needing to look up an address; wanting to look in an online shop. Those moments brought home to me how much I rely on my phone for distraction. Whenever there is a lull, I reach for it. Sometimes the pretext is information or function, but none of it is urgent. The address was for a letter that wouldn’t post until Monday anyway, the online shopping was (needless to say) not that important. And guess what, FM radio still exists.
We made Thai green curry for dinner. I simmered sweet potato, onion, red pepper, courgette and cherry tomatoes in a rich coconut milk sauce. Chris blacked Indian aubergines beneath the grill, peeling the charred skin at the last minute and adding the smoky flesh to the vegetables along with fistfuls of spinach and a handful of fresh basil leaves. We cooked a big pot of basmati rice, drank more rose. With our phones out of sight and mind, we concentrated on the food and conversation.
Chris wanted to read after dinner. I’d finished my book so started the only other “new” book on my Kindle, Radical Compassion — a collection of essays by contemporary Buddhists. Without the lure of my phone, I concentrated more; thought more about what I was reading.
There was even time, in the midst of everything else, to write for a while.
Before going to bed, I looked at my phone. Should I turn it on to set the alarm for morning? It was strange to see it lying on the night stand, reduced to its real dimensions, just a slab of black plastic. The flicker of temptation passed. My phone is a significant part of my routine, a valuable accessory, but it’s not essential.
Communication is essential. Closeness. Caring. Connection. All these things the phone can facilitate. It can also be an attention black hole. It was good to take a day off and remind myself what’s important and where things stand.
If you don’t hear from me on a Saturday don’t worry, it’s digital detox day.