How to break up with your phone, Double Arrow Metabolism edition, Day Two

Today (Tuesday) is my chance to "Assess my Current Relationship" with my device. I've been instructed to answer the following questions:

1. What do you love about your phone?

I like podcasts. A lot. I don't subscribe to many of them, but the ones I like, I really like. An hour of Zwift time with a podcast in my earbuds is a very, very good way to start the day. Not as good as riding outside, earbud-free, but still.

I also like my calendar. I remember my pre-smartphone days, barely, when I lugged around a thick planner full of crossed out appointments and smudged eraser marks. I graduated to a Palm Pilot in my third year of medical school, and it transformed me. I put surgical schedules and hospital rounds in the calendar and missed or was late to a tiny fraction of them. I am much more reliable as a result of Google Calendar. It may have come at the expense of some part of my brain that would normally be keeping track of my schedule, since my first instinct at the thought of any new obligation or appointment is to put it on my calendar. But on net, the effect seems very positive.

I love doing RubiconMD consults, and my phone helps me get them done. Mostly, it makes me get to a computer to do them, since I don't love the RubiconMD app, but it alerts me reliably. RubiconMD makes me feel like a real doctor, even on the days when I'm doing things that aren't particularly doctorly, at least in the classic sense. I'm not sure I'd have that opportunity sans smartphone.

Finally, I love the idea of having the world's knowledge in a rectangular piece of glass in my pocket. When I watch period movies set pre-smartphone, I want to take an iPhone back in time to the poor detectives and academics.

2. What don't you love about your phone?

I despise notifications. They are the most intrusive thing I've ever encountered, save for 2 am blood glucose calls from the hospital. But back in my days of 2 am glucose calls, I was at least getting paid for the work. Notifications don't pay squat. They're the absolute worst. I've disabled almost all of them. 

I hate that people don't have silly arguments anymore. In college, we settled more than one argument in the dorm by using a neighbor's almanac(!). Phones have destroyed the free-wheeling, ridiculous tavern-style arguments people used to have. Everything is too available now. People don't think about their answer to the problem as much as they think about what somebody else's answer to a problem might be. I think half the amateur economists on the web just go to Tyler Cowen's website and see what he has to say about a problem, then pretend they made up the answer.

I wish people still made plans. Once upon a time, if someone didn't show up for a movie or a dinner date, we went looking for him or her, since we suspected something bad had happened. Now, with texting, people are so squirrelly that I only half-expect anyone to show up for an appointment we've made. Plans mean less than they used to. I can't imagine trying to date in the smartphone era, even without Tindr and its cousins.  

3. What changes do you notice in yourself--positive or negative--when you spend a lot of time on your phone? (Depending on how old you are, you can also ask yourself if you've noticed any changes since you got a smartphone to begin with)

I don't notice any of the physical manifestations that some people talk about. My phone doesn't make my neck hurt. I suspect I read enough already that my phone doesn't change my position much. I'm doomed to have a stooped neck someday. I don't text enough to get the thumb pain I've heard described. I have noticed my eyesight getting worse the last couple of years. Some of it is surely due to nighttime insomnia reading of my phone. (some other fraction is probably due to my advancing [but still young! still young!] age)

But if I let myself get too attached to my phone, I feel like I'm over-caffeinated. I can't focus. I can't feel. I try to drown every little negative thought with another click through my favorite websites or my email. It doesn't work. I stop observing my surroundings. I feel like I miss things that I should be noticing. 

But to be honest, I'm more annoyed with other people's phone use. When I see a family at a restaurant and three-fourths of them are on their phones, I want to slap the phones out of their hands, Dikembe Mutombo-style. Maybe it's because I know I sometimes look as bad as they do. FWIW, I've never actually committed assault on a phone user. But I've definitely fantasized:


In the process of finding that gif of Dikembe, I stumbled across this one. I don't know what he's disgusted with, but I hope it's his phone:

4. Imagine yourself a month from now, at the end of your breakup. What would you like your new relationship with your phone to look like?

I'd like to leave my phone in the car during most of my trips into a place where I expect to either watch or listen to something I've paid for, or into places where I expect to interact with others. I want to no longer feel phantom buzzes. I want to be freed from pre-movie warnings to silence my phone. I want to have the same relationship with my phone that I have with the pliers in my toolbox: I know they're there, but I use them only when I have a task that I need them for.

5. What would you like to have done or accomplished with your extra time?

I like to write. I like public speaking. I'd like to do more of both. I'd like to set an example for my kids that screens aren't the only pastime worthy of our attention. I'd like to ride my bike more. 

6. What would you like someone to say if you asked them to describe how you'd changed?

"The last time we talked, you made me feel like the most important person in the room."

7. Write your future self a brief note or email describing what success would look like, and/or congratulating yourself for achieving it.

Dear Dr. Moore (I didn't do nine years of medical training to call myself "Mr."),

Congratulations on becoming human again. While our cyborg future may be inevitable, with cardiac implants and insulin pumps and brain dust and the like, we shouldn't have to sacrifice our attention or our humanity in order to achieve great gains in health from technology. I hope you're enjoying your extra hour a day. I hope you're using it to do something that makes you a better person and maybe makes the world a 0.00000000001% better place. I hope you can have a conversation without peeking at your phone. I hope you don't feel phantom buzzes in your pocket anymore. I hope your kids don't think that "acting like a grownup" means being glued to a phone non-stop.