by Marissa Macy
I have downloaded some apps, apps that will make me stop using apps.
They track my phone usage. They discourage me from holding my device needlessly in my hand. These apps send me notifications when I’ve been on my phone for 15 minutes, 45 minutes, 2 hours. They offer messages like “Don’t touch me!” or “Come back later!”
Despite those apps, which run constantly in the background of my home screen, my phone is next to me right now, as I write. My eyes drift towards it, a few times every minute. I lie to myself. I tell myself that even if there is a message, I’m not going to read it. This is writing time.
Of course, when I do get a message, I lean towards the phone and casually read the subject line: Don’t forget you have a $10 DSW gift card you can use!
Everyone does it, collectively urging towards their phones like it’s a nervous tick. And those who don’t twitch and scroll are mythical beings. They are more creative than I am, more productive. They read more, and they take contemplative walks after their morning coffee.
It is normal to have your phone on you. Americans spend around 145 minutes on their phones everyday (according to some studies). We pick up our phones between 70 and 80 times. I have special apps. My special apps tell me that I use my phone for about 140 minutes a day, that I pick it up around 60 times. That makes me average. I’m part of the
When I talk about this social downfall, my friends defend themselves. It’s for work. or Oh, I’m just winding down. or So what? That’s just how it is now. And that’s fine with me. In fact, I envy that thinking. I’ve developed something of an obsession with my phone obsession. I want to cure it, and I want to be better than average. I don’t want to have the urge to look at it, and I don’t want it next to me, right now, as I write. The more I try to stop myself, the more disappointed I become. The chart on my fancy app, it reminds me that no matter how hard I try not to use it, that I still manage to stare at it for over 2 hours a day. I’m disturbed by this: my mind telling me one thing and my thumbs scrolling and swiping despite it.
I want to be one of those mythical beings, someone who transcends the addiction of my generation. I understand that this may come with a tendency towards feeling holier-than-thou or a sense of preachiness, but I’m willing to take the risk. Those two hours, I want to reclaim them and recycle them to fit my pretentious fantasy of the writer’s life. Each day, thirty minutes of that pointless screen time will be allocated towards actually reading my subscription of The New Yorker (print edition). Thirty minutes will be allocated towards a technology-free morning walk around a tree-lined block (in my memoir, I will describe this as the time from whence my greatest ideas came). And the remaining hour will be added to my writing time, at my mahogany desk. My phone is nowhere in sight. I look out across a vista that is the view from my study. When my brain gets impatient, I do not even consider a phone! A phone of all things! Idiotic! I get up from my antique chair, leaving a blinking cursor behind me; it waits for the next bit of genius. I pick up a book from my extensive collection. I read a few pages. I would never bring my phone into my study! The mere thought! Oh my!
But would it be so hard to just turn it off and put it in a drawer when I write? No gimmicks or apps. No mind tricks or scolding at myself in the bathroom mirror. And when I’m out and about, at work, with my friends, couldn’t I just leave it in my bag? Put it on silent. Don’t look at it until later. Use it responsibly. Just do that. Yes, just decide to be responsible.
Of course it’s not that easy. I haven’t even gotten to the meat of the issue. If I’m on the phone all of the time, my creative juices drain, my time to write disappears. Yet, if I’m never on it, then there goes the platform I’ve been working on. As a “self-proclaimed writer”, with nothing but a few tidbits to my name, part of my credibility lies in my online presence and platform. I want to get my book published, don’t I? And thus, I have a Twitter, and I participate in pitch events. I have a blog that I write and promote every week. I have a Facebook, where I keep an eye out for opportunity. I have an Instagram, where I can show my quirky side. I google agents, and I follow them on Twitter. I research publishers. I read writer’s forums. I search grammar rules and find pages upon pages of how to use a comma in that context. Should I do this in a query letter? I ask the internet. How long should a synopsis be?
I know: writers before me, and writers after me, have done and will do all of this without buzzing over their phones day in and day out. But they are the exception, and I am the rule: putting in the work, getting rejected, my online persona jumping up and down for attention. It’s part of the game.
In wishing for a phone-free existence, for a superior lease on the writer’s life, I sound like an asshole. What makes me so special? There’s no reason I shouldn’t be mesmerized by the endless stream of colors on Instagram, or by the flashing lights of an addictive mobile game. I can’t transcend to a higher consciousness by using an app that grows a virtual tree every time I stay off my phone for an extended period of time. I’m here, now. I’m not a Parisian writer in the sixties with the view of the Seine, with no distractions but the sounds of the city and a good book awaiting on my night stand. I’m a woman in 2017, and my phone dings endlessly, and I try not to look, and I try not to scroll. I try to write.