Stop And Smell the... Boredom?

This is the fourth and final post in a Sisterhood series by Nina Badzin on gadgets, family and work.

Turns out I’m not the phone-addict I thought I’d become during the first months of my iPhone experiment.

To recap: Before Passover, I decided to stop living as a slave to my phone. I’d heard about others’ attempts at unplugging and even about one writer’s Internet-free year. In most cases, the experiments failed because the change was too drastic. Less phone time sounded reasonable, but my rules still required practice.

Some Forward readers insisted that strict Shabbat observance would solve my phone problems. As I reported in late April, I didn’t find that improving my Shabbat habits had any positive influence on the rest of the week. (However, I would love for some Shabbat observant readers to tell me whether they are less addicted to their phones on Sunday through Friday due to their 24 hours off the grid. Do you not look at a text during dinner on a random Wednesday? Are you not staring at your phone on the subway or in line at the grocery store? Let me know in the comments below.)

My phone-free progress has not come from big blocks of time. Rather, as debut author Natalia Sylvester noted when she couldn’t use her phone during an international vacation, it’s possible to do more of what you want when your spare moments are no longer spent staring into your phone. I loved Sylvester’s advice to “collect these moments. Spend them wisely. Watch them stack up like change rescued from underneath the couch cushions, piled high in a clear glass jar that astounds you with how much it holds once it’s full.”

I think I’m doing exactly what Sylvester advocates. I’m collecting phone-free moments and watching them add up to something meaningful. If you’re looking to decrease your phone time, I can only suggest what has worked for me.

MAKE THE BEDROOM A PHONE-FREE OASIS

I stopped charging the phone in my bedroom, making the late night and early morning hours peaceful for the first time in years. I now read more at night, talk to my husband more, and get ready faster in the morning.

MAKE MEALS OUT LESS OBNOXIOUS

Most people, including my babysitter, know that I no longer keep my phone on the table. This means I stopped getting the kinds of texts I’d invited in the past, such as whether to give the kids chocolate chips or licorice for dessert. Now, when I say emergency, I mean emergency, not “one child wants to watch Sponge Bob and the other three want Bubble Guppies.” If I’m out for a longer period of time, I do check my phone, but never at the table.

The downside to improved table manners is that I have to endure apologies whenever others keep their phones next to their plates. I don’t like that my friends and family think I’m keeping tabs on how often they glance at their phones. (It would be too many to count anyway.)

LEARN TO USE THE LANDLINE AGAIN (OR AT LEAST MAKE CALLS ON THE CELL PHONE)

Since Passover, I’ve rediscovered the landline. It’s like 1994 around here. Instead of only texting, I now make an effort to use the old-fashioned phone. I don’t expect people to always have time to talk, but I like my friends to know that I care enough to try. Calling friends and family on the cell phone works for deeper connections, too. The point is to remember that texting and emailing are not the only ways to communicate.

ALLOW FOR BOREDOM

I used to pick up my iPhone while I waited anywhere. I still instinctually grab my phone, but I make myself experience some boredom first. I look around. I take a breadth. If I’m lucky, I have a useful observation or two.

Those minutes without the phone add up throughout the day. Studies (and common sense) tell us that we need quiet moments to encourage creative thoughts. Of all the changes I’ve made, experiencing this boredom has been the most challenging. Numbing the mind with the phone is a hard habit to break. As I said, when I likened taking out my phone to the modern day cigarette break, I often grab my phone when I need a break from a larger social gathering. This need hasn’t changed.

GET OVER THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT

I do miss out sometimes, but I’m gaining more than I’m losing. I’m more connected to my husband and my kids. I cook more often, keep up more efficiently with the piles of paper in our kitchen, and I feel more awake. The second I pick up my phone, I’m gone. I’m in another world and it’s impossible to reach me. And yes, sometimes escape is the point of playing on our phones; it’s just a matter of choosing appropriate times — such as not when someone is standing in front of us speaking.

READ ANTI-PHONE ARTICLES

People now send me links to good phone-related articles. My favorite was a CNN piece by Kevin D. Williamson, a theater critic who got so fed up with a woman texting during a show that he tossed her phone several rows ahead. In the most memorable part of the article he writes:

Whether we’re in a theater, a restaurant, standing in line, or ignoring our family and friends, aren’t we all that woman sometimes? Haven’t we all been “that guy?” I hope I’ve become less of that person. I know I’ll never give up my phone completely, but if I can continue on this path, then I will consider this exodus out of cell phone slavery a miraculous success.

Nina Badzin is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her husband and four kids.

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