Can't Call, I'm in Cuba
A new study came out suggesting that the average American checks their phone about…. *drum roll please*
300 times a day.
300 TIMES A DAY.
I recently admitted to myself that I was addicted to my phone, and this number seemed shocking to me. 300 times, that's 300 other things you could be doing in the day. More pages in books to read, laughs to have, connections to make. It all seems like such a waste, because really when you lock your phone at the end of the day, what information can you remember storing and soaking up? Was it worth it? For me it really never is.
I heard this 300-times-a-day fact over the radio in the car, and I zoomed past mountains dried up from the sun. I thought about how insanely bright blue the sky was, and how I wanted to grab an iced coffee, and lost in thought reached for my phone. I was texting someone, making plans for a rendezvous later. Even though messages were sending back and forth over maybe three minutes, I had to check during the in-between minutes to make sure I didn’t miss a message. I could just wait for the ding, or I could just call.
Earlier this year I went to Havana. A little bit of a quarter life crisis moment for sure, in the wake of my lease being up and a relationship being up too, my first instinct when shit hits the fan is to just roll with it, so I booked a ticket to Cuba.
Without internet, I found myself writing and reading a lot more. I tore through three Hemingway books in the first week, lounging lazily in a living room chair while black beans soaked in the closet-sized kitchen. A rum and coke in one hand and a dog-eared, marked up book in the other. I also made up janky songs on a guitar in the casa renta that only had five strings (one of which was impossible to keep in tune). And in my two weeks in Cuba I had filled up two journals, written all of my pieces for the mag, and read about five books. And also managed to go dancing every night and to the beach every day. It seemed like I had literally too much time on my hands, to do lists being checked off before breakfast.
Once I landed in Miami for the connecting flight back home, I reconnected to the world and got a flood of messages, ding, ding, dinging on my screen. Voicemails. Emails. Updates. Notifications. Memes from friends, concerns from my family, CNN telling me about Trump’s new tirades and attack on Planned Parenthood. It felt like a thousand voices were swirling around me, and I had to get up and pace up and down the terminal, hands shaking from anxiety.
When my mom picked me up at the airport I told her straight away I was going to get a flip phone, which sounded like a ludicrous idea to her, and maybe it is. Maybe it is pretentious and privileged to want to downgrade to something simpler, but having a computer in the palm of your hand was seriously weirding me out.
Coming back from Cuba made me aware of a few things: how much anxiety I build around my phone, how phone addiction is regarded as completely NORMAL, and how despite what everyone around you is doing and saying, it's okay to put it away.
I realized that the anxiety I felt when I first touched down from being disconnected for a couple of weeks was anxiety that I had normalized and actually felt every single day. I am notorious for keeping messages banked up in my inbox because something in my head tells me that this person is going to be mad at me, say something negative, say something that I will have to confront and face and might ruin my day. So when I finally muster up the courage to open up the message, it’s three days later, and all it said was “miss you, let’s get coffee.”
I’m trying, and actually getting better, at replying more immediately. It sounds silly but I will breathe out before I open a message or email and tell myself silently that I can handle it. Or substituting phone calls for texts helps me heaps, because a bad tone of a text can keep me at bay while calling someone will make me realize that they are in a perfectly fine mood and not mad at me at all, despite what my anxiety is telling me.
So overall… my new guidelines for communicating via my cel are…
-Calls over texts whenever possible
-Open a text as soon as I see that I have received it and read it, even if I don’t feel up for replying right away. This way it’s not hanging over my head and making me unnecessarily nervous
When I got back I noticed how normal it is to have your cel practically attached to the palm of your hand. I was baffled that as I wandered though the streets, people were wandering too, but their eyes were on a screen instead of on the scenery around them. On the bus it was the same, and at stop lights even. Of course it had always been like this, and I was probably a part of that. But really, think about what your day is with your phone and how much your use it…
Waking up and pressing your home button first thing, falling asleep to the glow of a scrolling and scrolling screen. How often do we get lost for hours mindlessly watching slime videos or tagging friends in memes? It becomes a time filler, an attention holder. Glancing at it with the excuse of wanting to know the time when there is a lull during in-person conversation. Or reaching for it when you have just two people in line in front of you at the grocery store or out to coffee. Even worse— at a stop light. And then you start to feel vibrations and seeing your screen light up even when it doesn’t.
Bottom line is it has become NORMAL to be addicted to your phone.
How many times during this article did you stop and check it? That alone should tell you.
Does it sound crazy to leave your phone at home when you go to work, or go to school? Whenever I suggest it to people they tend to look at me sideways, as if every generation before us didn’t venture out into the world without one.
How will we map ourselves home? What if something happens? What if my mom calls?
I suddenly felt that it was weird that anyone at all could access me at any moment, and that maybe I don’t want to make myself that available. As in 24/7 available. I need some space just for myself, just to think, when no messages can be read and the calls go to voicemail. It feels nice living in that space of time that seems uncharted and unchecked by anyone else in the world.
Try it one day, or a couple of days a week, or just leaving it in a completely different room when you are home.
It’s okay to not be tapped in all the time.