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

PowellsIndiebound | Amazon| B&N| iBooks| Google Play| Books-a-Million

77 comments

  • Wait. What did you say?
    *looks up from reading terribleminds blog on iphone*
    Yeah, I was listening.
    *looks back down and opens twitter instead because my iADD app kicks in and I forget what I am doing*

  • This is where I am officially the alien in the room. Because I effin’ HATE my cellphone.

    Not because it’s rubbish – even though, compared to most people’s, it is because I deliberately CHOSE it to be rubbish: “I just want a PHONE that PHONES people and MAYBE texts as well but I’ll need a QWERTY keyboard on it for that, because I am SO DONE with forgetting how to switch between numbers and symbols and all that shit…”

    I hate it BECAUSE it is capable of so much more than just phoning people, and it will take me the lifetime of the phone to discover how. I don’t WANT a phone that plays games and connects to the interweb – I have a computer and a Kindle for that. A camera on my phone? Whoop-de-doo, how fabulous THAT is… until it fails to send the photos it takes to any other device in existence, because…. jeez, I dunno, because my PHONE EFFIN’ HATES ME AS WELL, probably. I have a watch for telling the time, and I have windows in my house for seeing what the weather’s like. And best of all? If I want to phone anybody – I HAVE A PHONE PLUGGED INTO THE WALL IN MY HOUSE.

    And yet still I carry this bastard plastic brick around with me every time I go outside, because according to the Modern World, going outside without a device that enables people to call you at any given second of the day is akin to leaving the house naked and walking on your knuckles. I get a new phone, on average, every three years, because that’s how long it takes for a cheap model to break beyond repair. It takes me that long to remember how to even USE the goddamn thing; yes, I read the instructions, but they don’t stay in my brain, so six months on from buying my new phone I can still be staring forlornly at someone’s number on its nasty little screen, desperately trying to remember how to make the thing actually PHONE it. Get a smartphone? Are you KIDDING me? I struggle with remembering how to use a stoopidphone!

    *Takes some deep breath. Eats some chocolate.*

    I know how this makes me sound – like an antisocial Luddite. I don’t think I am. I have no such problems using my computer and my Kindle. I can participate in forums and emails, and in the Real Life World I can use my eyes, ears and my mouth to communicate with people. And I don’t use phones of any kind very often – even the ones plugged into the walls – because I’m hearing-impaired, and the environment I’m in needs to be pretty noise-free before I can hear what the person on the other end of the phone line is saying anyway (lip-reading works just fine for face-to-face conversations, but isn’t an option for a phone call.)

    But it’s irrelevant anyway. I hate cellphones precisely BECAUSE they try to be so many more things than just a thing for phoning people up. And I like simplicity in my life. The day some company invents a cellphone that looks and works just like the phone plugged into the wall in my house is the day I’ll be a happy bunny indeed.

  • Was at a full-service car wash recently and had to sit a good while in the waiting room. I was the only person in there without a smartphone. Lady to my left literally never took her eyes off hers for more than a half hour, at least as far as I could tell. Another lady came in, sat down, whipped out phone. A guy came in, sat down, whipped out phone. And there they remained until their names were called. Another guy sat at a table with his phone and earbuds. Still another actually put down his phone at some point and looked around! For more than 30 seconds! In fact, I think he did it for several minutes!

    On another occasion, I had breakfast with my Meetup group and the lady to my left barely put her phone down the entire time we were at the restaurant. Not even talking most of the time – just, I don’t know what she was doing. She never spoke a word to me or introduced herself for the hour or more that we were there. I might as well have been invisible. Once or twice a gal across the table from us tried to engage her in conversation, probably wondering, as I did, why she even bothered to show up.

    Yet another time, went to an office luncheon with a coworker who sat at the table before the meal arrived scrolling through her phone, occasionally making a remark. She continued this all the way back to the office in my car, though again, she did make an occasional remark. I really wanted to ask what was so important, but didn’t.

  • As a father of two kids age 7 and 16, their world revolves around these damn cell phones. My daughter age 7 only wants it to watch kids videos on YouTube or Netflix. My son age 16 needs it for music and staying in touch with his friends with Snapchat and watching dumb videos on YouTube. I myself only need it to check my emails and bills I need to pay but occasionally get caught reading news articles that piss me off. I believe not having a cell phone with you is relaxing because you don’t check the damn thing every other second. We need to go back to the good old days by actually striking up conversations with total strangers. You never know who your going to meet.

  • This article is pretty much how I feel. I have my moments where I put my phone up and don’t look at it with the intention to stay away for awhile. It would be hard to go without my phone forever since it’s already been forced it to my life since I was a kid. I truly believe everything needs moderation. We have to stop being so obsessive compulsive about everything.

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