I didn't want to write about this. I was too embarrassed. But after multiple confrontations with my boyfriend, I knew it was time to come clean: I'm on my phone too much. Those closest to me have always been my mirror — my partner, my good friends, my siblings. They all have been able to tell me when I need to make a change that would make me a better person. Sometimes I listen — though often not without resistance at first. I'm only human, and like most humans, I am uncomfortable when others point out something about me that could be improved.
"I need my phone for work," I told him during our first discussion about my over-usage. This defense came after I retreated to my screen in the middle of a rather tense conversation with some friends visiting for the holidays. It was partially true: I did need my phone — I was following the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs and was sure I was going to write about it. But in reality, it wasn't just that I was watching for breaking news — I also didn't want to be in the discussion happening in my real life, right in front of me. Someone in our circle was talking about how they supported police violence against citizens in any situation, and I just couldn't take it. I didn't want to argue with that person at that moment and I didn't want to be there, so I mentally left the room and joined the conversation on Twitter instead.
Twitter is my biggest problem. I live my life on Twitter; I tell Twitter everything. Twitter is where I find stories to write and also where I develop ideas. I meet sources on Twitter. I fight with political pundits on Twitter. I make friends on Twitter. I really, really, really love Twitter. In another kind but firm confrontation, my boyfriend brought up Twitter and the fact that I love it too much. Again, I was mad and defensive. "Twitter is for work!" I argued back. As I type this, I have Twitter temporarily blocked on my computer so I can actually get work done. As much as I pretend that being on Twitter is about work, it's not. I'm addicted to Twitter and addicted to my phone.
One of the many great parts about my relationship with my boyfriend is that we have this ability to get real with each other. Even if it takes a few discussions, we both listen to each other when we're talking about a fixable flaw or noticeable issue that is affecting our connection. In this case, he put my phone over-usage in simple terms that I think anyone who might be dealing with this same problem could relate to: When you get on your phone in the middle of a human-to-human conversation, it's like pulling out a book and reading it. If you were having dinner with a friend and, while you were talking, that friend took a book out of her purse and cracked it open, that would be rude, right?
The visual of this stuck with me. Every time I am on my phone without first verbally excusing myself from present company, I'm saying to them, "You're not important enough for me to give attention to right now. Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/e-mail is more important." That's a shitty message to send to your fellow humans.
As I became more conscious of my phone issue, I started to notice the same problem in others. Recently I was at a show with two friends I had brought together for the first time. I was so excited for them to connect — they both loved music, they were both from the East Coast and their personalities generally reminded me of each other. Things went downhill fast, though, as one of them chose to be on their phone the entire time we were all hanging out. Instead of a magical friend meeting happening, it was two of us talking while we stood next to someone on the phone. That friend might as well have been an uninvited stranger.
Me, on Twitter.
I wondered: How many first impressions had I thrown in the garbage just by being on my phone? This was yet a third version of this confrontation that my boyfriend and I had been through — he said that sometimes, he's so excited to introduce me to an acquaintance after he's told them all about me, but when they do finally meet me, I say hello and then proceed to stare at my phone instead of talking. The thought of what a bad impression I was leaving made me red with embarrassment. There I was, the cool girlfriend on paper who turns out to be a dud in real life because she's on her damn phone too much.
Obviously, our phones can operate as a refuge in this way. If we are feeling uncomfortable in a social situation, we can just mentally leave the room and retreat to our screens. I see this happen at parties and gatherings a lot — instead of braving the awkwardness of life, we turn to our phones where the representations of people we are somehow connected to are familiar. We miss out on the chance to be introduced; we miss the chance to be noticed; we miss the chance to be wowed and to wow others. It made me think: How many unique connections with people are we missing because we are staring at our phones instead? A lot of what I do on Twitter is observational humor-driven — I love to people-watch and relay what I see to my Twitter followers. I've always been a people-watcher; it's how I learn about the world and often what I base my stories on. But how much of the everyday human experience am I missing by giving my time and attention to this little piece of glass and plastic that's in my hand at all times?
Like any good new year's resolutioner, I started a journal dedicated to tracking a few goals I had made for myself for 2016. I've not only been tracking my progress, I've been tracking my feelings about it all, one of the biggest being my phone usage. As I wrote, "I'm getting better with my phone — I stopped taking it to the gym and I am conscious about using it in front of others. I still need to work on cutting down using my phone in the car, on the toilet and in bed..." I had to laugh. I have a problem with using my phone ON THE TOILET too much? This seemed unreal to me, but so real at the same time. If you are a phone addict, I am sure you can relate.
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I recently saw the arty period drama Carol, which is very beautiful to look at and full of Turner Classic Movie-style extended glances between humans who wish they could just hug each other in public. What struck me the most about the film, though, was that it reminded me of this: Once upon a time, phone etiquette was a real thing. People actually excused themselves to use the phone. People made time in their daily itineraries to sit down and make phone calls. People asked each other if it was okay to call. What a concept.
I get that we can't go back to the old days when phones were for communal usage, weighed ten pounds and were mounted to a wall. But what we can do is be more conscious of the time we spend with our phone. Is your phone more important than the person standing in front of you? Probably not. We all have times when we do need to be with our phones — and that's okay. It's all about communicating with the humans in our airspace. Try taking your phone out of your hand and putting it in your purse or your pocket. Leave it in the car. Hell, leave it at home! And if someone tells you that your phone usage is affecting your relationship, listen to them. People want to spend time with you and that's a good thing. Facebook can wait. Instagram can wait. Twitter can — as much as I don't want it to — wait. Living the life that's right in front of you is way more fun and interesting, I swear. I'm even re-learning how to go to the bathroom without my telephone...and it's a beautiful thing.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies