I’m trying to sleep right now. It’s almost 10 past midnight, and I have work at 8:30 tomorrow morning. But I’m thinking about some stuff that I’d really rather not. Stuff that’s been following me around all day, and some stuff that’s followed me around for much longer. Like that incontinence commercial with the little walking bladder, always tugging the woman off course.
So I just picked up my phone, as a distraction, because if I don’t redirect quickly I’ll only spiral deeper and deeper, quicker and quicker. And the second the screen turned on, my chest felt the tiniest bit lighter. It was a visceral reaction. And now I’m laying here and I can’t figure out if that reaction was that of an addict getting their fix, or the relief of not having to think anymore.
In the daylight, it becomes obvious that I’m addicted to my phone, probably chemically, but also that I use the distraction of my phone as a coping mechanism. I average seven hours a day of screen time — less on days when I’m working, more on days I’m not — which is the same as the national average for teenagers. Last week alone I spent almost 22 hours on social media. My friends’ averages ranged from 3:39 to 8:45 per day, but even those at the lower end of the spectrum noted that they would prefer to spend less time on their phones.
I just bought myself an Apple Watch. My friend commented that she thought an Apple Watch would make her more connected to her phone, but the fact is that my phone already lives in my hand or my back pocket. I sleep with it literally on the pillow next to me, because it’s at night that I have the worst racing thoughts and I use my phone as a security blanket of sorts.
I dated this girl in high school who would hit me up at the oddest times, out of the blue. She told me at some point that she always needed to be around other people. I need the time to spiral out, because I will and can do that around other people, but she was constantly running from the spiral. One of her coping mechanisms was having her mind constantly occupied by others. I have a friend who is constantly listening to music. I didn’t really think I had identifiable coping mechanisms. I talk to people, I shove it down, I make light of it, I go on a run when I’m feeling panicky. But this phone addiction is clearly one I’ve developed.
I wrote last summer about how much I had enjoyed Glennon Doyle’s new book. I keep thinking about her ideas on boredom. She says that that moment after boredom tells you who you are — if you pick up a pen or a guitar or put your shoes on. She also thinks my generation is being robbed of boredom. That for almost our entire generation, the moment when the spell of boredom is broken no longer exists. We pick up our phone at that moment.
But cell phone addiction is not just about boredom and dopamine, it’s also about control. For me, it’s control of my thoughts. I can reach a total veg/Zen state by scrolling through Twitter and TikTok for a couple hours, or listening to a podcast and playing solitaire. I’ve been feeling so incredibly out of control — you know, this whole year, but also especially this last week. I’ve been unable to stop thinking about things I don’t want to think about, unable to get myself out of a rut and feel better. Normally when this happens I’d go for a run, but I just got diagnosed with Lyme, and lemme tell ya, doxycycline makes you feel like shit. Plus, I do most of my brooding at night, when it’s too dark and cold to safely run the streets.
I think we all have some thoughts about the state of the world that we’d like to ignore. My friends and I just today were talking about how we’d always thought we’d have kids, but it seems increasingly cruel to bring a kid into our dying world. We’re all on a slow march towards doom and we must not actively think about that every second of every day, so we all need some distractions.
I often follow the threads of my thoughts back to impending doom and gloom, and that just ain’t no fun. So I’m also not excited about how much time I spend on my phone. I hate it. It’s not who I want to be, it’s not who anyone in my generation wants to be. But I’m working with what I’ve got right now.