Stop Looking At Your Fucking Phone

This blog is very often me yelling at me about me, and for some reason folks actually want to tune in and listen to that. This post is no different. This post is about me as much as — if not more than — it is about you. So, please, take this in the spirit that it is intended:

Me yelling at me about me.

*clears throat*

I love my phone.

I mean, I don’t make love to it or anything, though maybe I ought to given how much time I spend with it. It’s always right there in my pocket. Near my Wendig Bits, which is a reference to my genitals, as it were, and not a darling name for a brand new breakfast cereal.

The smartphone — in this case, my iPhone — is a pretty fucking batshit gonzo amazing device. Ten years ago you could not have convinced me that we would’ve had a handheld computer tricorder motherfucker that was more powerful than the computer I had on my desk. A computer that in fact also operates as a phone, a camera, a GPS, a game console, a social antenna. You can use it to find recipes, movie times, porn, bars, porn, books, friends, fuckbuddies, bars, porn, weather, and porn. That is a fantabulous device. It’s smaller than my hand, bigger than my mouth, and it contains NEARLY ALL THE INFORMATION.

It’s wonderful.

And you need to put it down.

What I mean is, I need to put it down.

Because there is no better way to be up your own ass than to be constantly staring into the shiny glitter pit that is your handheld mobile smart-device.

The phone-makers know that. They count on it. Just as food manufacturers know that food becomes more addictive with the right ratio and release of SALT SUGAR FAT into your bloodstream, the phone-makers have their own ratio of shiny icons and satisfying dings and injections of hot social connection and constant updates and probably porn. They’re not dum-dums. They want these devices to become the center of your existence. And that’s not unreasonable. Again: my smartphone is fucking amazing. I can’t imagine what will even be around in ten years provided of course that we do not drown in our own boiling oceans by then. Our phones in ten years will probably be enslaved artificial intelligences that can fly and make frittatas and give us orgasms and I dunno probably turn into lightsabers. I’m not knocking the considerable awe your phone should inspire. They are amazeballs. They are wondernipples.

And seriously, we need to put them down.

Not all the time.

But some of the time.

Look around you most days and you will see two things:

1) The world in all its glory. You will see birds flying and squirrels fucking. You’ll see traffic and airline contrails and pretty clouds and ugly clouds. You’ll see some guy with a triangle-shaped pizza stain on his shirt as if he literally just rested the slice of pizza on his chest. You’ll see a woman with a tiny dog. You’ll see some kid picking his nose and making his sister eat it. You’ll see bees and ants and boats and baubles and trash and treasure and maybe if you look hard enough you’ll see Donald Trump’s rabid skull-merkin chasing down neighborhood cats and eating them.

2) You will also see people ignoring the world in all its glory and instead doing damage to their cervical vertebrae as they crane their heads forever downward, shoving their noses and eyeballs into their handheld mobile time-sucking dopamine-releasing endorphin-chugging devices.

Do you remember the time before phones? Sitting there in an airport or waiting for your car to get repaired — what did you do? Flip through a magazine, maybe. Or maybe you talked to someone near you. Or even better: you just fucking looked around at shit until you realized that was boring and then you crawled inside your own head for a while and just thought about stuff? Daydreaming? Zoning out with a thousand-yard-stare? Figuring out life, the universe, and everything?

Now, we go right to the phones.

Which is okay, mostly. I’m at the airport, I like that. I like having that time with social media, with friends online, with games in my pocket. I like having a book there on my iPad. But once in a while, too, I forget to charge my device and I’m left with a brick and for a few moments, I have this mad panic. “AH WHAT WILL I DO WITHOUT MY CONNECTION BASICALLY I’M AS DEAD AS THE PHONE IS HOW WILL PEOPLE KNOW WHERE I AM OR WHAT I AM DOING OR HOW WILL I KNOW WHERE THEY ARE OR WHAT THEY ARE DOING OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT hey look at that lady her hair actually looks like a well-coiffed facsimile of that big orange monster guy from Looney Tunes.” (I did not realize that character had a name: “Gossamer.”)

*flashes the MORE YOU KNOW banner across your screen*

Next thing you know, you’re off on a little mental adventure. You’re looking at things. Connecting with your own brain instead of everyone else’s. Existing in the moment rather than in a thousand other moments from a hundred other people.

But it’s hard. Isn’t it? I find it hard, anyway. Disconnecting is tough.

Just putting the phone down — it’s such a habit. Twitter. Email. Weather. Music. Everything.

It doesn’t help that the phone wants to constantly poke the button in our brain that lights up our internal switchboards — it compels us to stay, hang out a while, keep looking. You open your phone to check the weather or take a photo and suddenly there’s a Twitter notification and an e-mail ding and a note about a new unlockable in that freemium game you just downloaded. It’s digital quicksand. It’s an informational sugar rush. It is glorious. It’s like drinking from a way-too-delicious caramel firehose. And it’s too damn much.

Our smartphones are like bridges carrying us over boring moments — but sometimes those boring moments are secretly, subversively amazing all on their own. Especially for us writers and artists. Sometimes it’s our job not to dive into the device but instead to stay rooted in the world — to watch it, and then to fuck off not into a screen sometimes, but into our own head-caves to process what we see and hear and smell. Sometimes we should stop taking the bridges our devices afford us, and instead take the long way. Slink down into the gulch. Descend into the canyon of existence. Be in the corporeal world and not the digital one.

Because sometimes those bridges also carry us over other people. And vital moments with those people. I’ve been talking to people who were looking at their phone and at best it’s like talking to a distracted raccoon. At worst it’s like trying to have a conversation with a tree. “HELLO ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME, TREE.” Hell, my son the other day was like, “Daddy, put your phone down, I’m talking to you.” He was. And I didn’t even realize it. I was like, “WHO ARE YOU, SMALL PERSON, HOW DID YOU GET IN MY oh shit yeah, hey, Gerald,” and he’s like, “My name isn’t Gerald.” “Dave?” “Nope.” “Don?” “No!” “I’ll just call you NINJA ROBOT 9000,” and he was cool with that, and now I should probably try to remember his name. But until then, me and NINJA ROBOT 9000 are going to have some great adventures where I’ll be putting down my phone and paying attention to what’s-his-name as best as I jolly well can.

Which is actually my solution, I think: to be mindful of the phone and to put it down at crucial moments. No phone at meal times. No phone on walks. No phone at bedtime. No phone when I’m hanging with the tot. The phone is like booze, ice cream, TV, video games, masturbation — everything in moderation. I can’t be staring at it all the time. Some of the time: yes. It’s a great vacation and a powerful tool. I love my phone and that won’t stop. I use the king hell out of my phone and that won’t — can’t, really — stop either. But I will put it down. I have to put it down. Because what’s inside it isn’t actually the world, no matter how much it feels like it sometimes. It’s time to pay attention to what goes on beyond the borders of my device screen.

I will try to be present when the world asks that I be present.

That, I think, is my mission statement.

You don’t have to accept it as yours, of course, but if you start dicking around with your phone when I’m talking to you, I might pick up your phone and eat it. *chomp*

* * *

ZER0ES.

An Anonymous-style rabble rouser, an Arab spring hactivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll are each offered a choice: go to prison or help protect the United States, putting their brains and skills to work for the government for one year.

But being a white-hat doesn’t always mean you work for the good guys. The would-be cyberspies discover that behind the scenes lurks a sinister NSA program, an artificial intelligence code-named Typhon, that has origins and an evolution both dangerous and disturbing. And if it’s not brought down, will soon be uncontrollable.

Coming 8/18 from Harper Voyager.

Read the first five chapters here, then pre-order from:

Doylestown Bookshop| WORD| Joseph-Beth Booksellers| Murder by the Book

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