Recently, I came home to find my 23 year-old son sitting in our backyard with his eyes closed, legs crossed— meditating...Read More
“How iPhones Ruin Your Posture and Your Mood” was a recent New York Times headline. According to the article, in order to see our small screens, we are hunching. And cowering affects our self-esteem. In, Are You Addicted to your cell phone? I discussed other disadvantages of phone use, namely being easily distracted and not focused on the present moment.
And while those things may be true, here’s what’s also true— I love my cell phone!
It allows me to view, Ruth Chang’s TED talk, How To Make Hard Choices.
Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk, My Stroke of Insight, a fascinating discussion about the brain and peace on earth.
Johann Hari: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong.
On Facebook, I see how the owners of SOTO boutique, a clothing store in LA, made their holiday party not only festive but meaningful. At a Sunday morning breakfast, packages of clothes for the homeless were arranged for distribution. What a lovely way to spend the day: amongst friends and coworkers, giving back.
On Twitter, I follow Novelicious and find this Kurt Vonneget quote.
On Instagram, Alice Chera, Life coach, posts one of her thoughtful every day reminders.
Once again, it boils down to what my mother says. Somehow it always boils down to what my mother says: With the good, comes the bad.
So, yes, I’ve been spending more time on my phone but I’m getting a lot in return. (Like the idea that I have to pay attention to my posture.)
So every now and then, I’ll remember to sit up tall. But I won’t stop reading what’s on my tiny screen—gathering information, insights, ideas and inspiration.
The row in front of me was a smoking row.
That’s how it was then— preposterous!
I was three months pregnant and allergic to cigarette smoke.
The plane ride was a torturous eight hours as the man in front of me lit up every thirty minutes.
While government has been slow to respond to the dangers of cigarettes, smoking was banned on all U.S. domestic flights in 1990. And in 1995, Delta made all flights, including international flights, smoke-free.
On New York City streets, I run around, and in front of, people who are smoking.
Not wanting to breathe secondhand smoke, I sprint past buildings where workers congregate, smoking.
And what makes this running around extra-annoying is that smokers seem oblivious to the discomfort they cause.
Fortunately, the law has gotten involved.
And while Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to ban smoking in bars and restaurants was met with much resistance, it has been successful.
According to statistics, smoking in New York is down, and the city, and its restaurants and bars, seem to be thriving and doing just fine without the smoke-filled haze.
While Bloomberg was in office, he proposed a law to force residential buildings to develop smoking policies. He wanted buyers and tenants to be made aware of smoking regulations.
Unfortunately for me, the law did not pass.
I learned the hard way about noise due to construction in the city a few years back when I rented an apartment. But I truly thought it was me alone who experienced such terrible luck.
How was it possible for one individual to be surrounded by so much noise? (See: On Writing and Distractions.)
There is a Yiddish folktale: It Could Always Be Worse. But with the three apartments surrounding mine under construction, and one above me, I did not believe that could possibly be true.
But it was true.
A few months ago I signed a one-year lease on a New York City apartment. And in this new apartment the problem is much worse.
My neighbor is a chain-smoker and her secondhand smoke seeps into my apartment making it difficult to breathe.
The hallway carpeting reeks.
(Read this upsetting article about third hand smoke.)
Neighbors on all sides are incensed. But there is nothing we can do.
Our building does not have smoking restrictions. And us non-smokers have no rights, even though our health is at stake, our quality of life is compromised, and smoking is ranked second in causes for New York fires.
I don’t know how I didn’t notice the repulsive smell when I went to view the apartment. But I didn’t and the real estate agent didn’t point it out to me. Legally, she’s bound to mention bed bugs.
To make matters worse, my neighbor is an eighty-year old woman. She has been smoking for decades. And even if we (me and my neighbors) had the right, we wouldn’t evict an old lady.
We are stuck.
So often as a non-smoker, I've felt trapped, without choice, powerless.
So I was happy to discover that there are new smoking laws that protect children.
In England, you may not smoke in a private vehicle carrying children under 18.
In Italy, there is a ban on smoking in cars carrying pregnant woman and children.
In France, smoking was barred in July 2015 for children under 12.
In the United States, smoking with kids in the car is banned in eight states and the age of the child varies from state to state.
These laws do not apply to e-cigarettes or convertibles with the top down.
One day, soon I hope, in the same way we came to understand the importance of legislation demanding the use of seatbelts and helmets, and laws prohibiting drinking and driving, we will come to realize the obligation we have to protect non-smokers.
We will look back on this time in our history and wonder why we allowed smokers to subject non-smokers to pollutants that are known to affect health, cause cancer.
Could it get any worse?
My daughter caught me scrolling through facebook and said, “You’re not just doing that for work.” She was calling me out on what I’d been telling her, which was that I needed to be on facebook and instagram and twitter in order to stay in “the know”.
It was how authors promoted their books.
It was where I could announce my new literary agent, Carrie Howland from Donadio and Olson!
It was where I found interesting articles and learned about communicating in a social media world, which felt as natural to me as raising a baby whale.
I needed information!
But all this was relatively new.
I joined facebook, instagram and twitter only 18 months ago. I did that for two reasons. One, I wanted to promote my new blog; and two, I didn’t want to be left behind. I wanted to know what was going on around the globe, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Simultaneously, everyone in my family complained, bitterly, how I never answered my phone. And that was because I could leave it untouched for hours at a time while I wrote.
So over these 18 months, I became more connected and reliant. And little by little, something changed. (Read: Be Here Now.)
Just this weekend, I’d been wondering if I’d crossed some invisible line because last week, on vacation, in a first attempt to boost my numbers, I studied those social media sites for long periods of time when I was supposed to be relaxing on a beach.
It was my first vacation completely connected.
Before that friends teased me because I couldn’t manage to get my phone to work once I left the country. And of course, the truth behind that was I didn’t want a working phone.
Now that scenario seemed impossible, ridiculous, archaic.
So when my daughter called me on my behavior, it solidified what I’d been contemplating. I had to pay attention to what I was doing.
“I’m going to read,” I said. And I went upstairs. Alone in my room, I checked my wordpress numbers and read some email messages. Before I knew it, I was hooked and kept scrolling. Just a few minutes more I kept telling myself, my daughter’s voice in my head.
I stumbled on Oprah's SuperSoul Sessions.
I was elated!
I thought about how as a child, I got bored. But now, as an adult, with all this access, how could I ever get bored? There was so much to see; I couldn’t keep up.
The SuperSoul speaker was Elizabeth Gilbert. And she was speaking to a huge audience about passion and curiosity and I clung to every word with guilty pleasure. I told myself again and again, rationalizing, that I could’ve paid for seats in that audience and her talk would’ve felt like a cultural outing, something special.
Elizabeth’s speech was empowering and informative and yet as I watched her on my I-phone, I watched the clock intently aware that I was missing precious reading time. I’d been in my room for close to an hour, my book, unopened, at my side.
And here’s what happened:
I wanted to watch another SuperSoul Session but didn’t. I was intent on reading. And worried that the Internet had control of me, I made sure to read. It was a bargain, kind of like how an alcoholic decides he doesn’t have a drinking problem if he can go without alcohol for two days.
The trouble was, I didn’t get into the shower when I was supposed to, and running late, decided not to go out.
My Internet distraction, just like any addiction, had an impact.
There are so many possibilities of how my evening could’ve unfolded.
Maybe my daughter and I would’ve had a meaningful conversation.
Maybe I would’ve read more pages.
I definitely would’ve showered when I was supposed to and then my night would’ve taken a different direction. Instead of staying home, I could’ve gone to a jazz club and heard live music. I could’ve gone to a movie in an actual theater and not watched the stupid one I rented at home.
It’s not that any of these activities were necessarily bad, because I really did appreciate the Gilbert talk; it was just that they all felt a bit out of my control.
And while I had a nagging feeling that I was tipping into new territory over the last few weeks, I kept pushing the thought away, denying, and or defending my choice to send a text, answer an email, post a comment. As if any of these were actually choices.
The word addiction kept popping into my head.
Was I addicted?
That’s ridiculous, I told myself. Just 18 months before I didn’t even have a facebook friend.
But if addiction is a relentless and compulsive pull to a substance, or activity, and interferes with everyday life, I (shockingly) was guilty of that.
And then I woke up to the NY Times article: Addicted to Distraction and everything I’d been feeling was laid out in front of me.
I related to Tony Schwartz’s experiences wholeheartedly.
And yet, and maybe this is denial, I had questions.
Schwartz wrote about being less focused because of the amount of time he spent online.
I had been noticing the same thing.
He stated that reading was a focus building practice. And he wanted, like I did, to do that more.
So instinctively, I agreed with him. But why?
Why was reading a better choice?
Was that thinking outdated?
Maybe that's the equivalent of insisting we use horses for transportation. Horses are naturally more beautiful than cars and they don't have us relying on foreign countries for oil. In addition, cars go too fast and, as a result, we miss a lot.
According to Nicholas Carr, “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information.”
We make trade-offs.
And that’s why we drive cars instead of horses. In time, problems get addressed and voila—the electric car is on the frontier.
Tony Schwartz gives suggestions on how to limit the amount of time you spend on your phone, and in fact, I was ahead of him in that I had my phone far away from me, on purpose, as I read the newspaper Sunday morning.
But these are short-lived solutions. This doesn’t really address the problem.
If there is a problem.
Maybe things are the way they are supposed to be.
Maybe trying to stay off our devices is a pointless fight against change and modernization.
But in the last few paragraphs of Schwartz’s article, he gets me.
He depicts a scene.
He recounts how he saw a father and his four-year-old daughter at a restaurant. The father is on his phone and his daughter cannot get his attention.
In my opinion, this scenario illustrates our biggest loss.
I’ll bet that father wouldn’t dream of bringing a book to the restaurant. It would be socially awkward and unacceptable. But his phone—no problem.
I’d like to say there is a time and a place for everything (because that’s what my mother would say) but when something is compulsive, it is compulsive. There are no boundaries.
We are scrolling ourselves into oblivion and the key here, and what makes these behaviors, or advancements, different than others, is its addictive component.
We are in denial (Denial= Don't Even Notice I Am Lying) or at least I was until my daughter finally got my attention.
I grew up in a house with a bar that spanned the length of the living room. I thought as little of the bar as I did of our couch, the coffee table or any other piece of furniture in the room. Granted, the bar had a mirrored front and a sleek wood top, which proved glamorous and alluring, but my parents weren’t addicts, they were partiers. When my husband and I had the opportunity to decorate our living room, we built a bar equally as sleek as my parent’s bar and it took up a good portion of the living room. I never thought about the message this sent my children or what I was unconsciously teaching them.
Entertaining one Saturday afternoon, a friend caught my eye. I watched him stroll to the bar many times over the course of the day filling his glass with scotch again and again. After about ten trips to the bar I lost count. I wasn’t concerned or shocked. The only thought I had about how much he’d consumed was, boy he can sure put it away.
This was a friend who’d been married for fifteen years, had five children, drank scotch straight from the bottle, often fell asleep in his clothes on the couch, and at times woke with no memory of the evening before. How is it possible that when he went to rehab, I was surprised?
I write about this now because I want to call attention to how unaware we are of the enormous and immeasurable ways addiction impacts our lives and how the values of our culture, community, family, along with our childhood experiences and our feelings of self worth play a part in how obsessions show up, sometimes unexpectedly.
I’m not an addiction expert. I’m a writer, a teacher, a mother, a woman living in a tight-knit community, who has witnessed the progression of something so alarming and prevalent it has become impossible to deny any longer.
In Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, the authors claim that how we feel, what we know, whom we marry, whether we fall ill, how much money we make and whether we vote all depend on the ties that bind us. But Social Networks don’t distinguish between good and bad, so they spread happiness, generosity and love... but also eating disorders and alcoholism.
Tina Rosenberg’s book, Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, argues that peer pressure can lead to acts of bravery or destruction (depending on the trend) and that through social networks we could transform the world. Rosenberg asks us to re-imagine social change based on the most powerful human motivator: our desire to connect with one another. And she refers to this phenomenon as the “social cure.”
I saw this happen firsthand.
When the man who drank scotch straight from the bottle returned from rehab, he surrounded himself with other recovering alcoholics and attended Alcoholics Anonymous, a social network. He lived according to the program, one day at a time.
But within our community, outspoken, he stood out until a few months later, another community member got sober. Together they seemed to stand taller than they did on their own. They made recovery look good. They didn’t talk about how much they missed drinking. Conversely, they spoke about the benefits of sobriety. They could participate in their own lives again, be reliable family members and concentrate at work.
Fun-loving and charismatic, they turned what was once perceived as shameful or undesirable into something that was not only accepted but respected; a loser move had become cool. They were a dynamic duo and were suitably named Batman and Robin - Caped Crusaders.
It wasn’t long before others recognized their serenity and wanted some too. I watched as person after person joined the bandwagon. Individuals who’d struggled, unable to remain sober, were finally able to stick the program. The group, attractive, grew. The social ties were spreading recovery.
A few years ago, we had a fire in our house and needed to redecorate the living room. This time: without a bar.