Originally published at C H A N G S P A C E. Please leave any comments there.
So it’s been a week of – among other things – some discussions of social media and the impact of it on our lives.
For starters, check out Louis C.K.’s bit on smartphones for kids and what they do to us as human beings. It’s funny and insightful (which is the philosophical equivalent of saying it’s nutritious and tastes good, too!).
The part about crying in the car listening to Springsteen? I do that every day. In the car. And the gym. I’m 6’6″ of emo lug.
This got me thinking hard about my daughter’s use of the iPhone I got her as well as my own use of same. Specifically, what it’s doing to my nervous system. I discovered I was not pleased with the results. Ultimately I realized that in my hands it’s not being used as a tool but as a panacea and a drug – and an escape!
Really, it’s like I’m a monkey in a lab: pressing a bar to get a pellet when I swipe and enter my passcode to go on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter or another social media outlet.
Part of it is a reaction to stress. I’ve been in an intense place in my life this past year with a great deal of business and personal changes. The stress has added up. Slowly but surely, I’ve grown to rely on social media to connect with people; it began with reaching out to family and friends spread out over all the world, especially since eight year ago we moved from a community we’d been in for many years.
But over time this became a way of seeking gratification, absolution, approval and perhaps to a lesser degree… revenge.
I see I’m not alone in this from two articles in the 9/22/13 Sunday Styles section of the New York Times. One is about the growing – slowly, and it won’t hit Maine for another five to ten years – prevalence of smartphone and social media free zones at gatherings from simple dinners to fancy-schmancy parties. We tried to practice the phone stacking in our family once at a pizza night dinner at one of our favorite restuarants, Bonobo. My memory is it resulted in acrimony and derision between my daughter and I as my wife remained aloof and above it all (my wife claims she’s above cellphone-as-drug use but which of us curls into bed at night with her iPad and racks up a $10-$15/week Candy Crush habit? Hint: it’s not the one with the goatee and male pattern baldness).
The other article was about hate-reading on Facebook. I hate to admit I engage in this a lot. Way too much. And this article made me reflect on the degree to which I do this and I was stunned. I go through the five stages of death whenever I log on for an extended session. I like some posts, hate others and curse their authors for writing them, growing greener with rage and envy than the Hulk with too much soy milk in his double espresso when I see the success of someone else in my field or another (some other time I will discuss the debilitating role jealousy plays in my day to day life). I think such and such shouldn’t be posting, should get off Facebook and get their sh*t together or that they’d be better off if they just lost so and so as their partner.
Then there is Tumblr which I use as a vast repository of images for my novels. The clicking, favoriting, reblogging and downloading of images is a terifying compulsive behavior in an of itself. I find myself radomly liking so many things with noticing It’s all a simple game of click, click click.
I do this all while not realizing A) the effect it’s having on my nervous system and B) the fact that someone, somewhere close by might be doing the same thing and thinking the same thing about me (this happens more with Facebook I think than Tumblr. But, like any place humans gather on the internet, Tumblr has it’s share of acrimony and hate. Especially in the social justice corners of its servers).
Did I mention I’m a yogi, a yoga teacher and have been all about namaste since I first figured out how to say it and learned what it means?
Yeah. So… That.
I was reading these two articles in the Sunday Times while decamped to my usual sunday morning spot: my comfy throne, a skull-shaped Adirondack chair (I plan to be buried in this. Wife, take notice). So I grabbed a clicker-county-thingie from my desk and while reading I held it in my hand. My phone was five feet away on my desk. Every time I felt the urge to pick it up I clicked it. There were more clicks than I imagined. In fact this is what it read after less than two hours:
I made it sepia so it would look arty and less a statistic of my compulsive behavior.
Wow. I mean, even if we subtract for mis-clicks due to excitement or being startled that’s a lot. A lot.
It got me thinking about how often I reach for my iPhone and why (and this is a smartphone discussion not just an iPhone one so I think we can leave any cult of Mac sniggering to the side, if you would, please). What would be really scientific would be to keep a log of every time I pick it up and why (phone call, email reading/writing, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, social media dicking around). Heck, I bet I’d get a pretty good sense of the percentage of time used if I just think about it. Honestly I’d say 80-85% of the time my phone is in my hand it’s for random social media use. 5% is phone calls. The remaining 10% is a combination of IMDB checks, photo editing and miscellany.
What the hell am I really doing in that 80% of the time I’ve got the phone in my hand? Probably not a whole hell of a lot.
One could say, “Imagine what you could do if you didn’t have the iPhone or use it as much?” to which I say, “Meh. I’ve written a 350 page novel this year, revised and published two more with another in the pipe. I run my own business and still manage to make 2 albums of music a year. And also be a responsible parent and husband.”
Still, one could ask that question, to which I would answer, “Honestly, it would just make me more present.”
In the clip above, a lot of the stuff Louis CK is talking about is Buddhism, Meditation and Yoga 101. He says this:
“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not doing something which the phones have taken away; the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person, right?”
That right there is just the idea of “being with.” It’s the central tenet of many a sitting practice. Then he says:
“Underneath everything in your life there’s that thing, that empty the forever empty.”
Whoa. (Louis CK is a comedian who has been doing some rather deep, unique stuff. Don’t let his cursing or crass humor fool you. If you don’t believe me just watch him for a while and you realize that there’s more to him than just the jokes like, say, Seinfeld. A great perspective on this is the episode of the WTF podcast by Marc Maron where he interviews Louis CK. I swear, everyone needs to listen to that even if you’re not a comedian). What he’s talking about is essentially the void, the fear the emptiness of existence. That’s some deep existential stuff and also something redolent of Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a great deal in my life, especially since I began meditating about a year and a half ago. Being able to sit with nothing is hard. Really hard. I thought after a year I’d been getting pretty good at it and then when I began group meditating I experienced intense fear, dread and nausea plus the inability to sit focused on my breath. So as much as I like to think I’ve become some super calm spiritual unit after 12 years of yoga and 1.5 of meditating it’s pretty clear to me I have but scratched the surface.
Because the void is what I fear most. Not emptiness, not the dark, not outer space, nor just the usual stuff like money or the lack, sex or the lack, etc. but honestly just the open gaping maw of the unknown that is there in the back of all ours minds (my wife claims she doesn’t have this fear. And she may very well be free of it for she is a superior being whose one visible flaw is being married to a very handsome, humble and ultimately human male). I think it’s what compels people to drink excessively, do lots of drugs, have too much sex, etc. We do all these things in order to cap the top of the void in the hopes that it will just go away. And when we try to fill it with something (booze, pizza, peanut M&M’s, sex, cocaine, chocolate-cocaine-sex) it is not full for long. Because it’s not capping off the top of the void we have to worry about.
It’s the hole at bottom of the void; it simply isn’t something you can ever fill.
In my own life I know that when left with too little structure I will become a jellied pile of depressed confused human constantly clicking at the PS3 controller or going to my phone and endlessly checking for the latest story on Facebook I can like or comment on, the cool new picture on Tumblr I can download, reblog and like or something I can say on Twitter or some conversation I can join on Twitter (and oh, let’s be honest, if we can get our favorite writer/musician/actor to reply or favorite our tweets it’s an endorphin rush like you wouldn’t believe. The rush I got from William Gibson favoriting a tweet or mine or the reply from Nick Harkaway was like being touched by the hand of God. Ahem. I digress).
What all this has brought me to realize is that I need to be much more structured with how I use my phone.
To a certain degree it’s how much I’m interacting with social media, too, but we’ll say it’s the phone for now since I can’t lug my desktop around.
Both the NYT articles have some good points made by various people about phone use:
- no phones in the bedroom
- no phones after 10PM
- no phones when around the kids.
There are many others. One of the hardest for me will be not having the phone in the bedroom as I’ve missed important calls that way. But I think I can give it up.
Ultimately the hardest thing will be how I use it when there’s nothing else going on. I like the shiny. I like to be stimulated. Like when I’m watching TV can I not check something on IMDB right as I watch it? Just because we have all the information of the world at our fingertips in seconds does not necessarily mean we should access it every single time we need it. What I’ve noticed in myself is the jangle it does to my nervous system. It gets the cortisol – which is already flowing freely in me – burbling up fast and furious. Those 116 clicks I racked up were just when I was reading the Sunday New York Times.
Imagine how many I’d rack up watching Homeland?
I haven’t really thought about what exact measures I’ll be taking towards more mindful use of my phone. I know I need to set up a regular discipline, for sure. Just today as I’ve been giving it most of my attention, I feel calmer although still a bit jumpy when I want to check the phone for something, be it a fact or Facebook. For now I think I’ll just leave it on my desk, plugged in and not hot in my pocket where I can slip it out and fondle it.
It’s not as if this is the first time we’ve ever approached curbing our iPhone usage in our house. My wife instituted – can you tell who is the more disciplined party in our relationship? – a “No Electronics Before 10AM On A Sunday” rule a few years back that we’ve been pretty good about (I always manage to sneak around this by playing internet radio and then slipping over to Facebook. I always get caught). And though she’s the Candy Crush addict in our house, she’s also the one who frequently cites the affect tablets and the light from screens has on our sleep. And I even got excited a year ago when I heard about the mom whose rules for her son’s iPhone use went viral. I had mad visions of instituting these rules on my daughter’s use of her phone.
How’d that go? Let’s just say I’m not so good about putting many of those 18 points to work. Ok, any of them.
Another thing Louis CK said that I found really powerful:
“I’m not raising the children, I’m raising the adults they will be.”
And he’s right. That’s what I’ve always felt about my daughter and I’ve told her: I’m raising you to be a good, kind, caring and strong person in this world. This is really what we should all be doing as parents while letting them have their childhood. One way we do this is to teach them by providing good model behavior. Clearly, I’ve got some work of my own to do in that arena. Which for me right now means putting my damn iPhone down and engaging with the world outside of it.
Right after I see who liked this post on Facebook.
Or reblogged it on Tumblr.
Or Tweeted it!
Gotta get that number down.