I want this article to go viral
Here’s the link to a must-read article in the February 23, 2019, New York Times: “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain.” Intelligent, cogent, thorough, practical, and eminently relevant to resilience.
Business reporter Kevin Roose recounts his decision, quite deliberate, to detox from his “addiction” to his phone. Of course, he still uses his devices for work – he’s a columnist for the New York Times on the intersection of technology, business and culture. But Kevin’s 30-day journey to a healthier and more productive relationship to his devices is compelling, believable, inspiring: from checking his phone 100 times a day (even checking email during the three-second window between when he inserted his credit card into a chip reader at a store and when the card was accepted) writing emails on the subway and watching a YouTube video while folding laundry…to a digital free weekend in a cabin in the woods, reading, relaxing, and getting welcome feedback from his wife that he was so much more present and attentive at home, listening more, less absent-mindedly distracted. (What psychologists call “phubbing” or snubbing a person in favor of your phone.)
Kevin worked with digital wellness coach Catherine Price, science reporter and author of the best-selling 30-day guide How to Break Up with Your Phone. Many practical tools. Creating a “mental speed bump” to break the automaticity of his habits: creating a screen message when unlocking his phone: “What for? Why now? What else?” Addressing emotional triggers that caused him to reach for the phone in the first place: boredom, discomfort with stillness. Kevin practiced keeping his phone in his pocket and looking at the buildings he passed while walking to work, delighted at spotting architectural details he had never noticed before.
Giving his phone the Marie Kondo treatment, keeping only the apps that sparked joy and contributed to healthy habits or needed information, tossing those that didn’t. Pruning his home screen to essentials; calendar, email and password manager.
Learning that where you keep your phone matters. (Studies show that people who don’t charge their phones in the bedrooms are significantly happier than those who do.) Roose bought a mini-safe and began storing his phone inside, which significantly reduced his night-time usage.
Practicing fun diversions. “I signed up for pottery classes. As it turned out, pottery makes a perfect phone substitute. It’s manually challenging and demands concentration for hours on end. It gets your hands dirty, too, which is a good deterrent to fiddling with expensive electronics.”
As Kevin spent less time on his devices and less time worrying about spending less time on his devices, he found he was developing a healthier relationship with his phone while simultaneously recovering his brain’s capacities to read an entire book, watch a full-length movie, and enjoy long uninterrupted conversations with friends and family. Celebrated with a “Thoreau Cleansing” – 48 hours digital free in the Catskills, reading books, doing crossword puzzles (NY Times, I’m sure) sitting in front of a fire, gazing at the stars. “I felt my nerves softening and my attention span stretching back out. I started to feel human again.”
Kevin now checks his phone only 20 times a day and can go for hours without peeking at his screen. Kevin acknowledges his appreciation for his phone has grown: “Right here, in my pocket, is a device that can summon food, cars and millions of others consumer goods to my door. I can talk with everyone I’ve ever met, create and store a photographic record of my entire life, and tap into the entire corpus of human knowledge with a few swipes.”
And… “I bet that something fundamental has shifted inside my brain in the past month. I cannot stress enough that under the right conditions, spending an entire weekend without a phone in your immediate vicinity is incredible. You have to try it.”
Please do try it. Our brains were not hard-wired by evolution to handle the rapid switching of attention required by constant attention to email-text-social media-YouTubes. Brains go into “brain fog” and cognitive fatigue after 60-90 minutes of multitasking on digital devices.
Take a break. Take a mini-break. Walk around the block, cell phone in your pocket (or at home!) and notice trees, peoples, pets. Take many mini-breaks, every 60-90 minutes. Take longer breaks and sense the stretching of your brain’s functioning back to long periods of concentrating on a book, film project and longer (and enjoyable!) conversations with people
Continue your work and your connections with people however you do. Connecting easily with people over long distances and easily downloading information as needed is nothing short of miraculous. (Thank you for receiving this post on your computer or phone! Perhaps you’ll share it. I really do hope this goes viral.) And…rediscover the daily miracle of being a human being engaged with a thoroughly miraculous world.