I’m starting to really hate my phone. It is handy, of course, for little things like, oh, I don’t know, calling people I love, and taking pictures of my dog, and trawling Instagram (the essentials). But it’s starting to feel like a very small, very annoying toddler in my pocket always, always yowling away to be held.
I work fairly flexible hours and I am militant about guarding my time off for the remainder. I will, guilt-free, let email wait longer than usual, and ignore Whatsapp (the worst) messages unless truly urgent. There’s an insidious pressure to always be available for seemingly legitimate reasons: ‘urgent’ email, meeting requests, and other planning or schedule-linked things. The truth is, if you’re not a doctor on call, or something similar, whatever it is will likely keep, at least for a little bit.
There is a din and pace to life in the city that is starting to drive me bonkers. And the root of it really is the expectation that we must always be available. To employers, to friends, and even to family. At work it is an annoying inheritance from that American approach to entrepreneurial life (‘always on’), and at home it is a giant impediment to creating time for oneself, or just to be quiet. But that quiet time is now more important than ever. Kate Hollowood writes in this article (worth a read, particularly for makers and creators struggling with their process):
With down time disappearing from daily routines, we are limiting the opportunity to have ideas to the tiny moments of the day when we are truly relaxed. This is why so many artists describe having epiphanies when they are in shower, ... “the question needs to be asked, is the iPhone there to serve us or are we there to serve it?”
The wonderful thing about email is that while it appears in your inbox immediately, it does not actually have to be read immediately. Let me be clear: I love email. I’d actually much rather you always either text or email me rather than call me, but I’d like to suggest that disconnecting is a luxury we all need, and that we must manage our email rather than having it manage us. Only a couple of years ago, leaving work meant leaving work. You’d do the things you needed to do, and then you’d physically leave your place of work, and that would, for the most part, be it. With the exceptions of heavy weeks or deadlines, you didn’t really do very much that was work-linked until you arrived, back at work, the subsequent morning. I know it sounds prehistoric at this point, but this golden time I refer to was only six or eight years ago.
Today: email checks mid-conversation, almost no exchange passes without at least one of the people involved looking at their phones, and dinner with friends is sort of a game of “who is the rudest” (it has shamefully been me, at least once). Mobile phone use has reached such an uncivilized fever pitch that it feels quite lovely to establish that you’re not answerable 24/7. Use your head. There’s a line to be walked where you can milk all the convenience that technology affords us without turning into a slave to it.
Fact: Too much screen time results in your brain’s grey matter actually shrinking, which means a decline in your ability communicate, crappy food cravings, and poorer cognitive performance. There’s research that says it also impacts your body’s ability to process emotion properly, and likely, they say, to die younger. But given that it’s making us dumber, fatter, and emotionally dysfunctional, perhaps that is a good thing.
Basically: set better habits for you. It is up to you to create boundaries that allow you to be a more present, more engaged person. We’re better when we work and are all-in, and we’re better when we’re talking to partners, parents, or man-at-gate and are all-in. Let the always-there screen know that you’ll get to it, but in your time. That’ll help you not be the person sending emails on a Sunday evening. (Not looking at it until tomorrow mate, deal with it.)
One of my favourite ways to get out of my head (‘check email check Instagram check email again’, it says, on a loop) and back into my body and the stuff happening around me, is an HIIT class. I defy you to get into a social media wormhole after an hour of loud music, rivers of sweat, and pushing your body to its very limits (and always being astounded by how much that poor sucker can actually do).
Movement of any sort is ideal, but there’s something visceral about a class that makes you MOVE like you didn’t know you could, so you feel like you’re just purging, getting stuff out, that sludgy feeling after a day at your desk, or residual irritation from a fucking annoying text exchange, or any sort of internal chatter. When you’re in your second minute at the battle ropes, or doing fifty burpees, it is hard, or impossible even, to be in your head, and that’s the delicious moment of just letting go that I wait for. First there’s the feeling of inadequacy, or the fear of trying something you haven’t before, or of failure, that will rise unbidden, and then there’s the response: of wanting to leave, to stop, to be done. When you decide stay and go through in that moment you tap into something inside that is deeper and truer than anything you’ll find online, and that stays with you long after you’ve stepped back out of the class and back into your life.