At the beginning of the year, I decided to try and stop using my phone.
I told some people; they were mostly dismissive. Some were envious--envious in that desperate, hating way they would be if someone with whom they went to highschool lost 20 pounds. Several older adults smirked and said, "Good luck with that."
And yet we all know, I think, why someone might do this. We know. We feel it in our bodies. Our twitching fingers and racing hearts and eyes that don't know where to settle if not on our phone screens. Our restless legs that refuse to allow us to sit down and do anything if we are waiting for someone to like our picture, to reply to our message--the subtext of which is "I am lonely," or "I am angry," or "Please fuck me," or "I can't concentrate long enough for anything to mean anything until I receive your response, and the one after that."
There is something suspect in the sentences autocorrect and search suggestion compose for us.
There is something sinister in the way it is easier to buy a pair of shoes than get rid of the ad for those shoes, which pops up like a whack-a-mole everywhere we turn on the internet.
There is something scary about a phone's buzzing and flashing insistence that it is time to go to work (we should leave now, by this route, taking light traffic into account).
These are technologies for us to serve, not technologies that serve us. We want to be free. At least, I do.
I remember my parents getting their first cellphone specifically so that my mother would feel safer driving the Saskatchewan highways in the winter. My phone did not make me feel safe. My phone made me feel like I was an animal in a lab, perpetually on the verge of a mental breakdown, helpless if the gadget in my hand died, craving an ever-increasing level of stimulation. I couldn't trust myself.
You could even say my phone was gaslighting me. You could say we were in an abusive relationship. How else should you characterize a system that seems to make superfluous your memory, judgement, and skill at navigating social and physical space?
So I got a wall calendar. I got a watch. I deleted my Amazon account and switched my server over from Google to Proton Mail, glacier-pure encrypted email from Switzerland. I mostly stopped using Google Maps. I deleted Tinder, reinstalled it, and deleted it again. I deleted most of my social media. (I still have a Twitter account.) Almost immediately, people tried to impress upon me how much I would be missing.
It was true. Concerts, parties, impromptu lunches, and scheduled movie nights happened without me. I would find out about them next time I saw a close friend in person; they would say, "Fuck, I'm sorry, I forgot you didn't have . . ." Whole relationships, solely sustained by text conversations and mutual monitoring of the other person's Instagram or Facebook activity, quietly died away. And I didn't mind.
I was worried, of course, that doing my best to drop off the face of Google Earth would have the ironic effect of separating me from the real people I care about, the real food I want to eat, the real sex I want to have, the physical gatherings I want to be a part of.
Instead, the more I supposedly missed out on, the more my life moved into focus. Writing letters to my sister in Cape Breton. Uninterrupted reading. Uninterrupted movies. Watching people at the bar. Making brunch with a bunch of neighbourhood women and their dogs. Plans I do not change at the last minute. Exchanging new work with fellow artists. Sleeping 9 hours a night in the winter and 6 hours a night in the summer.
My friend Geoff called my landline the other day to ask what he should get his godson for a baptism gift. I thought for a minute. "A tree," I said.
I refuse to excuse my idealistic tone when I say that this is a better way to live. I am less anxious. I am having more interesting thoughts. I am (I think) developing more nuanced opinions on current events. I am reading a hell of a lot. And I have become curious about the idea of the soul--what it might be apart from what Jaron Lanier calls "the giant global brain that will inherit the earth."