How to break up with your phone, Double Arrow Metabolism edition: Days Six and Seven

Saturday's (Come back to [real] life) assignment: Get back in touch with what makes me happy in my offscreen life. I'm asked to complete an exercise:

  • I've always loved to...ride my bike
  • I've always wanted to...publish something non-academic
  • When I was a kid, I was fascinated by...reptiles
  • If I had more time, I would like to...write more
  • Some activities that I know put me into flow are...none. Ever. Don't get me started.
  • People I would like to spend more time with include...friends from college

I'm supposed to make a list of specific fun, off-phone things to do in the next few days. Here goes:

  1. Visit the Monet to Matisse exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum
  2. Volunteer for Bike Walk Wichita
  3. Meal plan for the week
  4. Ride my bike every day
  5. Visit the herpetarium at the Sedgwick County Zoo

Sunday's (Get physical) assignment: Make some time to get back in touch with your body by doing something physical and enjoyable. I plan to commute by bike to my volunteer activity with Bike Walk Wichita today. Two birds, one stone.

The second assignment is to buy an alarm clock so as to more effectively banish my smartphone from my bedroom. I've been thinking about doing this for a while. My trusty, rusty old clock radio from college has been commandeered by my daughter, so now when I wake up in the night I can't tell what time it is without looking at my phone. My beloved George Nelson clock is hard enough to read during the day:

IMG_1361.JPG

I'm not super-pumped about the style of the normally reliable Wirecutter's top pick, so I'll add "shop in-person for a clock radio" to my list of non-phone activities for the weekend. 

"The greatest favor you can do is...put away your phone."

Sherry Turkle from the MIT Media Lab talks about the frequency she hears people say they'd "rather text than talk." People say they feel less vulnerable when they text than they feel in a face-to-face conversation. I agree. I feel less vulnerable texting, too. 

So don't be a phone worm. When I was in medical school in the late '90s, I remember classmates making fun of a woman in our class who was pathologically attached to her cell phone. We'd all just learned the word "pathologic," and our family members were already asking us for medical advice, so we all felt comfortable making the diagnosis. Anyway, hers was the phone that would ring its Nokia ringtone multiple times a day to interrupt class back when this was still a novel occurrence:

In the year 2017, I'm not sure she'd even hit the average cell phone use. Recently, at my kids' gymnastics lesson, I was flanked by two women on cell phones. The first one sat to my right, bouncing off my shoulder as she sat. I forgave her for this, because she couldn't see me past the smartphone glued to her left ear. Then she proceeded to scream intermittently at two kids who were not in the gymnastics class, all while never removing the phone from her ear. I didn't blame the kids for being wound up; it was after school, and they were stuck in a building watching a sister when they would've undoubtedly preferred to be outside on the playground. But she couldn't be bothered to interrupt what seemed like a very non-urgent conversation.

I moved to a quieter place, sacrificing my chair for the floor. Then, three feet away, a second person started talking at full voice on her cell phone, telling the unfortunate listener on the other end repeatedly how pissed she'd been earlier in the day. Keep in mind, it was sunny and 66 degrees outside. Either person stepping outside to take her call would have been healthful and humane. But both women, insofar as my amateur observational skills could tell, sat in the middle of a crowded room and talked on their phones for the duration of the one-hour practice, save for the intermittent screaming at their kids. One child actually begged lady number two not to talk on the phone anymore, and was told to "zip it." A third man, who I assume was also a parent, broke his phone conversation only to tell a toddler to "stop fucking around." The toddler did not heed his instruction, and the man was soon sufficiently lost in his talking and texting to allow, shall we say, ample f'ing around, toddler-style. 

Sherry Turkle doesn't get into this directly in the brief video above, but this is all consistent with her observations that technology is killing social skills. We collectively show decreased empathy and a decreased ability for self-reflection. A big part of my job is handling sometimes delicate negotiations within clinics or within medical systems or between payers and doctors. In those situations, vulnerability is key. If the interested parties can't look one another in the eye and feel insecure and feel like their decisions impact the other people around the table, we get nowhere. 

Don't get me wrong. I've taken my share of calls and texts in crowds. But I've felt like an asshole almost every time. So to keep from being a hypocrite, I've set my phone to no alerts for messages or emails, and I frequently put it on sleep mode, meaning it won't ring unless an immediate family member or neighbor calls (I figure the neighbors have the best view of my house burning down). And though I've occasionally feared that this would kill my productivity, I'm fairly certain now that it does the opposite. I'm more productive the more time I spend apart from my device. People think email is urgent, for example. According to psychologist Dan Ariely, it's not. Yuval Noah Harari, author of some incredible work including Sapiens, meditates for two hours a day. And the astonishingly productive computer scientist and self-help writer Cal Newport is "indifferent" to his smartphone, still subscribes to paper newspapers, and only upgraded from a flip phone because his wife guilted him into it when they had their first baby. 

So here's a challenge for this week: Go outside your phone (comfort) zone. The next time you're standing in line waiting for something to happen, or watching your kids jump on the trampoline, or between innings at a softball game, or waiting for a movie to start, leave your phone in your pocket. Better yet, take it to whatever vehicle brought you to the game (except your skateboard; skateboards are a bad place to store a phone). It'll be hard to do, but you have the strength. Concentrate on your breathing. Once you've safely stowed the phone away, look at the others around you. You might have to work for some eye contact, because they probably aren't following the same rules you are. While you're gyrating around trying to get them to look at you, think about their stories. It'll give you something to ask them about. If they won't talk to you, make like Yuval Harari and make this time your meditation. If you're not the meditative sort, think about what you want to accomplish with the rest of the day. Make a mental plan. For a few minutes, don't be a phone drone.

See also: CRANK UP THE BASSHOW ELSE CAN YOU CRANK UP THE BASS?SOCIAL MEDIA IS A SET OF COMMON PLATFORMS TO DRAW OUT OUR WORST TENDENCIES, HAVE SMARTPHONES DESTROYED A GENERATION? 

Things you can control right now

There are a lot of things you can't control: the weather, the stock market, your neighbor's loud music. But many, many things are under your control, as pointed out by Lori Deschene. And how well you do at seizing control makes a huge difference in your health and happiness:

Right now, you can control:

1. How many times you smile today.

7. When you pull out your wallet for luxuries.

11. How often you notice and appreciate small acts of kindness.

17. The type of food you eat.

21. How much exercise you get.

22. How many times you swear in traffic. [I'd amend this to say that you can control how often you're in traffic at all. If you're swearing at traffic, chances are you are the traffic.]

27. The attention you give to your loved ones when you see them.

28. How much you enjoy the things you have right now.

41. Whether you formulate a new plan or act on your existing one. [this is my favorite]

44. Whether you smoke or drink. [unless you’re an alcoholic, in which case you are in control of whether or not you seek help from a qualified practitioner]

50. How much rest you get at night.

Source: tinybuddha.com

Freedom from the vortex

Maybe you’re sick. Not throwing up or coughing up blood or having a fever, at least not most of the time, but you’re on a few medications, probably for diabetes or blood pressure issues or cholesterol, and your doctor picks on you to change your diet or be more active whenever you see her. Your medications cost a couple hundred dollars per month, and every second or third time you visit the doctor she adds another one, or replaces an old, cheap medication with a newer, more expensive one.

And maybe you weigh a few pounds (or many pounds) more than you want to. You’ve tried a few diets, mostly Atkins-type stuff, or low-fat, or calorie counting, and you’ve lost weight a few times, but each time the weight eventually came back.

Maybe you’re tired all the time. You feel bad when you get up in the morning, you are fatigued and achy all day, and you don’t sleep well at night. Your doctor thinks you might be depressed, and you’ve tried a couple medications for it, but they don’t seem to help.

And maybe you worry about money. You spend a lot of it on medications, and you go through the drive-through a few times a month even though you promise yourself that you won’t, and you end up working longer hours than you want to because you need to make sure the bills get paid.

Maybe you worry about the environment. You worry that our habits are putting your kids’ futures at risk, and you worry about it, but you aren’t sure what to do. A couple of times you’ve clicked the button to buy carbon offsets when you flew somewhere, but mostly you just try to ignore the problem.

And maybe it hasn’t occurred to you that these are all different manifestations of the same problem. You read that right. There is a very good chance that your diabetes is just another manifestation of the same set of problems as your weight and your fatigue and your money issues and even climate change.

We’re gonna talk about how. This blog is about your health, but not in the way that you’re used to talking about it with your doctor. It's not about the “blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol,” kind of health that makes you feel like a gadget someone is tinkering with. It’s more about the “What do I look forward to when I get out of bed in the morning?” kind of health. Or the “What can I do today to make sure I’m happier tomorrow than I was yesterday?” kind of health. Health as freedom: freedom from false choices, freedom from medications (not all of them, but some of them), freedom from the, *ahem*, Bravo Sierra that passes for medical advice from celebrities and celebrity doctors. I’m talking to you, Dr. Oz.

You’re not going to see click-baity posts on this blog about some new supplement or cellulite-destroying cream. You’re going to see posts on how you can take control of your life back. I’m not talking about a life jacket to protect you from the evil, swirling vortex of drug companies, subsidized faux-food, and carbon-spewing cars and factories. I’m talking about the freedom of learning how to swim your way out of that vortex altogether, put your feet on dry land, and walk away. All those people wrapped in spandex and padding away on a commercial gym’s treadmill under creepy fluorescent lights: do you think they’re free? They sure don’t look like it to me. You, with dry feet, having sprung once and for all from the vortex and now walking one foot in front of the other toward a happier, healthier life: that’s what freedom looks like.

I intend to be your guide along this path to medical freedom. I want to teach you a new way to think about your health; a way that allows you to make decisions that are your own and that will get you out of the vortex. You know the last time you had a bad cold, and you felt guilty for taking all the healthy days you had before that for granted, and you wondered when you would finally feel normal again? Remember how you said to yourself that you’d never take a healthy day for granted again? Once you claw your way out of the vortex, you won’t. And it will be because you MADE that next healthy day. You will have made it yourself, with your own hands and feet and decisions. If you believe me, I’ll see you at the next post.