return to the land of the living

lifeisbeautiful copy When I was 33 years old, I took up smoking. This was really stupid. Who starts smoking at age 33 as the mother of two young children?

My marriage had just broken up. I was living in Norway, where everybody smokes furiously. Smoking filled up that deep dark hole that had been shot in the middle of my heart.

Here’s the thing about addiction: once it starts, it feels good. I loved smoking. It allowed me to escape my single mom life for a few minutes on that Bergen balcony, and it perversely felt physically good.

Thankfully, ten months later, I started dating a really healthy guy (my current husband) and I was terrified he’d find out that I was a secret smoker. I brushed my teeth constantly and took a lot of fragrant showers. The weekend we went away camping together, I forced myself to quit cold turkey, forever. I was a bitchy, agitated mess, and I’m shocked that we stayed together. He’s a good man.

I will now confess that I have the same addiction to my iPhone. Here’s how I calculate I spent my time on this Earth:
-60% of time looking at Facebook, Twitter or Instagram on my phone.
-20% of my time rummaging around for my phone – digging in my purse, feeling in my pockets, patting my butt.
-20% of my time frantically searching for my temporarily misplaced phone.

I fell into some very bad habits. My phone was plugged in beside me in bed just in case a wayward child texted me. I checked my Instagram feed just before I went to sleep. I scrolled through my social media feeds to wake up in the morning. I glanced at my screen at traffic lights. I stopped thumbing through magazines at the grocery store check out, and instead waited with my head down, reading Facebook posts.

There was a thrill in seeing a new notification on Facebook or Twitter. I became deeply sucked into the zing that went along with that validation. After my article Far from my Tree was published in the New York Times, my Twitter feed went wild. My heart beating loudly, I took a screen shot of the dozens of notifications, knowing that I’d soon be back down from my high to one or two paltry mentions or retweets a day.

I knew I had a problem, but felt helpless in the face of this technology addiction.

I listened to Carl Honore at a conference, where he shared about the danger of technology and our endless need to get more, more, more. I read meditation books to help centre myself and be in the moment. I could zone in the moment for only a moment, before I was glancing down at my phone, which had become my sweaty third hand.

“Put boundaries on technology” said the experts. I’d hide my phone and then seek it out after 30 minutes, compelled to scroll again. Moderation wasn’t working for me.

Now, I know myself well enough that I never installed my email onto my phone. Remember in the olden days, when you’d rush home eagerly to see if anybody left a message on your answering machine? Well, checking my email was like that. Since I didn’t have every single bit of incoming contact on my mobile device, I would run upstairs and check the email on my laptop when I got home to see if any ‘good’ emails came in. (Remember when all emails were good? Now most of my emails are bad: spam, problems, people wanting me to do things for them). Because of the inconvenience of my laptop, which lived on the third floor of my house, I soon was able to keep the lid closed for hours at a time.

On my phone, it was a different matter. I carried it around with me like my little baby. (Be honest. How many times have you texted while in the bathroom?). Facebook was becoming a serious problem. I censored my feed carefully, but still felt like a loser when I read everybody’s shined up Christmas letter version of their lives. Extravagant vacations, robust social lives, perfect children, statistics on their recent marathons – the reasons for my envy were many.

Twitter pissed me off less, but reading those 140 characters was so addictive, and even better than Facebook – because I followed over 300 people, there was constantly an update on it. I could check it, put down my phone, and then two minutes later, five tweets appeared. For an addict, this was awesome.

I have a small feed on Instagram, and a little more control. But my Facebook envy bled into Instagram. Sitting in my car in the middle of frozen winter looking at beach photos did not help with my morale one bit.

Then I read Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain by Daniel J. Levitin. He says you cannot daydream while you are checking your iPhone. They require different parts of your brain. When I was groping for my phone at 6 am, my brain was immediately clicking into organizing mode. Any creative function clicked off.

Well, I’m a writer. I have committed to not having a Busy Life so that my mind has time to knock around aimlessly and I can think of ideas and reflect upon concepts. I stopped overscheduling myself a year ago, and this has given me the luxury of daydreaming. Except when I’m checking my phone.

Last week, I deleted all my social media apps off my phone. I deactivated my Facebook account. All I can do is text or phone. Twitter and email wait for me on my laptop upstairs. Otherwise, when I’m driving, or standing in line, or waiting for my son to finish playing video games at the movie theatre, I am actually present. I’m looking around (this is especially helpful when I’m driving a motor vehicle). I watch the kids giggle as they play pinball.  I join Aaron in a car race game, and we speed through the streets of Paris in sports cars.  I eavesdrop on interesting conversations at restaurants.  I smile at the elderly lady in the grocery line. I chat with the cashier.

Discarding the distractions on my phone has lifted my head up. I am no longer obliged to have my phone glued to my hand. Sometimes (gasp), I even leave my phone at home. For me, this is revolutionary.  It has been a week.  Can this almost-cold turkey with technology last?  Check back with me in a month and send me a direct message on Facebook – hopefully I won’t respond.

For right now, I’m back in the moment, and I’m paying attention. I’m weaning myself off the addiction of the validation of the likes, comments and notifications. I’ve rejoined the land of the living.

2 thoughts on “return to the land of the living

  1. tarah2 says:

    Wow! I don’t know which is more shocking, the smoking or the weaning off of social media. I know exactly what you mean about Facebook. I’ve felt it this summer — why aren’t I taking the kids to this city event, or fun local destination?? They’re having a lame summer! I’m a bad mom! Oh wait, they would much prefer to be in their pajamas. Two thirds of them could care less about the latest festival. Maybe I will take them to the Botanic Gardens or the Corn maze, but it should be because we want to, not because of Facebook-induced guilt and/or envy.

    Good luck with this. It’s making me think about my own addictions. Time to play a few moves on Words with Friends…

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