About a month in and it’s been a mixed bag of experiences—some delightful, some vexing, and some downright perplexing. Now that I’ve made peace with the quagmire that is switching carriers and downgrading one’s phone mid-contract, the main challenge lately seems to be breaking old habits and forming new ones. Then there’s the realizations that come when awaking from an extended slumber, but more on that in a bit.
I have to confess, over the past few years, I have fallen prey to many of the nasty cell phone habits that I once criticized in others—and still find distasteful even though I was doing them myself. Some of these are:
- Checking email/apps at stop lights
- Checking email/apps in meetings
- Placing calls inside of businesses
- Reading a text while driving
- Compulsively checking work things when I was away from work
- Putting my phone on the table at meetings
Much like going to a bar sober, now that I’ve stopped, I’ve realized how much all of these sorts of behaviors have become commonplace and how odd they are. When we fidget with our gadgets in the presence of others, we are essentially saying “your presence, time, and the attention I am devoting to both are less important than what is happening on my phone.” I am now seeing it as an extension of the axiom that to arrive late to a meeting is to say that your time is more valuable than the other person’s—spending time on your phone while meeting with others is like standing in the doorway most of the time.
So, although I am genuinely not judging others for their habits, I can report that aside from feeling more present and appreciative of my experiences, I have felt about 85% less douchey. A few years ago, being on one’s cell phone all the time was sort of a jack-ass move unless you were a stock broker or delivered organs for a living. But these days, it’s just sort of accepted. Although I participated, I never really accepted it in myself and am happy to be paring way back.
I also admit that breaking these old habits is a process and there are relapses. I’ll soon be iPhone-less, which will help, but intermittent phone/email/social media checking has become such a part of my day, that I am having to relearn how to be on a computer—and how to be off the computer. I am also having to think ahead and how to remember little things and so much more. For me, the most difficult time to not check email is during work hours when I am away from my desk. The longer I am away from email, the more my anxiety grows, and the more I am submerged in this sense that the work-day is getting away from me or that an unanswered message is going to ruin everything. Of course, this is total bullshit. What I ultimately remind myself is that the compulsion to push the feeder pellet is about the endorphins, not about being productive or responsive, etc.
The flip side of the withdrawal symptoms are the many rewards, which are so positive and often quite profound. When I have a good day (where I stick to my rules and don’t cave to external or internal pressures) the perks are many. While I joke that this process is a “downgrade,” it’s actually the opposite. Daily, I am actively and enthusiastically working on reclaiming things that had seemingly gone the way of the mimeograph:
- Unoccupied moments
- Eye contact
- Problem solving/logic
- Planning ahead
- Following your nose
For me, each of these is inherently worthy and a personally rewarding pursuit. I already recognize that others don’t share my view, don’t care, are annoyed, etc. Some people are enthused and supportive, but others seem eager to poke holes in my plan. Fine by me. I am happier and more whole than I have felt in ages. Hopefully I won’t take this to the point where I’m the guy with the recumbent bike and a fanny pack with a rat tail and camping shorts, but if it makes for a more fulfilling and meaningful life, I’ll take it.