Sometimes my fingers get sticky, and not just from 7-11 Slurpees (which is also an upsetting situation).
It's my phone. My phone sticks to my hand and my fingers can’t rip away.
I refresh my email, I check TikTok, I look at and respond to text messages, I refresh my email, I remember I have a twitter account and I check it, I refresh my email. The cycle continues ad nauseam. I become that girl in the parking lot, slowly walking and texting the whole way, oblivious to the people and shopping carts surrounding me. I am the person who lays on the couch and then comes to realize two hours have gone by and all I have to show for it is a deeper understanding of the Berenstein Bear crisis and a new speculation on the existence of parallel universes. I lose sight of the world. The real world.
Is my cell phone helpful? Yes. Does a smart phone make life easier? Absolutely. Did I recently revolt and use a flip phone for two years because I was that vehemently opposed to looking at a screen all day? Also, yes. Is the iPhone technology so freaking amazing that I stay up at night trying to figure how they figured it out? Definitely.
But what I see in my phone is. not. real. It’s a virtual reality. What purpose does this phone compulsion serve? It changes my feelings and protects me from difficult internal situations. And that is the whole point. To give myself a pacifier before I even have the chance to cry. Preventive medicine. Then hopefully I won’t have to think about my dog in Heaven who I miss every day. I won’t have to look back at my relationship with my grandma and feel guilty that I should have spent more time with her. I won’t have to think about anything of substance.
Even though human instincts are natural and meant to keep us alive, we tend to abuse them. We distract ourselves with the meaningless. And distracting it is. I pick up my phone to do something somewhat useful like check on the Amazon order status of the food I ordered for my chickens, and then an hour later I forget why I even picked up my phone in the first place and have most definitely not looked up my Amazon delivery. That is bad!
Checking my email is NOT important. I am not the POTUS, thank God, and there is no logical reason to check it as often as I do. I (very strategically) live a life that does not require that I check any form of correspondence very often.
What am I looking for?
The events for that yoga studio in Pennsylvania that I went to once and still haven’t unsubscribed from their mailing list?
The SPAM offering me a fake-ass Best Buy gift card?
The Fresh Market deals of the week that I know I won’t use?
Occasionally, occasionally I will stumble upon something useful. An evite to a party or a notification about a yoga studio I do go to. But it is rare, and never an emergency. Yet still I drag my finger down my screen all day just to see a gray pin wheel spin and watch “Checking for Mail…” change to “Updated Just Now.” Then, I start to realize no one is emailing me and my life is so unbusy and I convince myself that's a bad thing. Then, I check TikTok, and I realize it has been an hour since I posted something and there are no new notifications, so that means it sucks and I am never going to get anywhere trying to use that app to promote my writing or my platform.
So, what have we accomplished here? I am now even worse off, feeling inadequate and defeated. Cool. And we KNOW this. So, then I feel even more stupid. We all know better. And we all still become entranced with that 5.42 inches of screen because it has been so normalized. And it is normalized intentionally. People are making a fortune from sucking up our attention. They want us to look at that screen every free second that we have. They are capitalizing on it. They are counting on it. They want us scrolling as much as possible. Even the word “scrolling” phonetically reverberates blah—it sounds like lulling, milling, lolling, connoting something banal, bleak, and endless.
My sticky fingers, and lack thereof, provide useful information. When I am living freely, in this world and not the other one, I forget where my phone is. I am outside with my chickens. I am playing guitar. I am writing. Whatever I am missing on the fantasy screen is the least of my worries. When my fingers get sticky, that means I am doing less of all the creative and constructive and productive and more of what doesn’t matter. The fluff of life. The bad fluff. The video game that is my phone. I might as well just start playing Nintendo again because it is of the same level of importance. I used to collect coins on the screen and now I collect likes. Well, hearts. Little hearts that add up and tell me that I am doing something right. They like me, they really like me!
Though neatly and attractively wrapped in regularity, ubiquity, and imagined relevance, this virtual addiction has no correlation with how people in.the real world feel about me. No correlation with my skills and worth. None. It is not a real interaction or a meaningful exchange. It is a trap. But I still want to have a ton of followers, please! In cell phone la la land, an adorable guy chewing a stalk of lettuce like a goat, as he spews funny internal dialogue, has over two million followers. Two million people (myself included) have watched him eat lettuce and decided they want to see more of it and tapped the Follow button.
It scares me to think about how this affects our brains in the long-term and heck even in the short-term, especially for us sensitive ones. We already process so much sensory information, constantly switching our gears over fifty times a day every time we pick up that phone, bouncing between two worlds. In line for coffee, we check for little magical hearts on our little magical screen, instead of saying hi to the person in front of us.
Even while writing this essay about being on my phone too much, I have checked it at least a dozen times so far. I see that 194 people have viewed my latest TikTok and there are still no hearts. The self-referential video shows me at Five Guys asking for a bag of peanuts. Writing this is helping me witness the insanity of basing ANY thought or feeling around how many people view and like this video, proof of my deranged and dangerous thinking which says See, I’m right. Everyone does hate me. Guess I’m gonna go eat worms…
I don’t have a solution. I wish I could get to the end of this essay and provide an outlined game plan, but I am in the same boat as everyone else. I don’t know what to do about it. For the next week or so, I think I will just observe what is going on with my mind and body during those moments my fingers get particularly sticky. The times of day I reach for the Nintendo game that is my iPhone, when I want to sink into the comfort of my coin collection.
- What is causing this stickiness?
- What is going on in my life NOT on the screen that is making this vortex seem to be a significantly more pleasant place to hang out?
- What situations am I attempting to escape?
- What feelings am I trying to avoid?
My sister once told me about a time her pastor preached on what matters in life. He said no one is on their death bed asking if they can see their car one last time so they can pet it. I feel the same way about our phones. Maybe that is not the best analogy because our generation probably WILL want to die with the phone in our hands as we take one last selfie.
The point is I can’t imagine getting to the end of my life, hopefully surrounded by family and good energy, and thinking, “Gosh, I really wish I would have checked my phone more often."