I carry my phone around with me as if it were an oxygen tank

I carry my phone around with me as if it were an oxygen tank. I stare at it while I make breakfast and take out the recycling, ruining what I prize most about working from home—the sense of control, the relative peace. I have tried all sorts of things to look at screens less often: I don’t get push notifications or use Facebook or watch Instagram stories; on my home computer, I have installed a browser plug-in called StayFocusd, which turns off Twitter after forty-five minutes of daily use. On my phone, I use an app called Freedom to block social media for much of the workday. If any of my digital chastity belts malfunction, I start scrolling like a junkie, pulling myself away just long enough to send frantic e-mails to the apps’ customer service with subject lines like “Freedom not working!” …

Nearly three-quarters of Americans have taken steps to distance themselves from Facebook. Entire families try to observe a “digital Sabbath.” Parents seek screen-time alternatives to the Jungian horrorscape that is children’s YouTubeAnd yet a mood of fidgety powerlessness continues to accumulate, like an acid snowfall on our collective mind…

One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. I didn’t want to learn how to fix or build anything, or start a book club. I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless, three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky. Nothing is harder to do than nothing,” Jenny Odell writes, in her new book,How to Do Nothing.” …Odell details, with earnest wonder, moments in her life when she was reoriented toward these values. After the 2016 election, she began feeding peanuts to two crows on her balcony, and found comfort in the fact that “these essentially wild animals recognized me, that I had some place in their universe.” …

On the first day of April, I took stock of my digital experiment. I had not become a different, better person. I had not acquired any high-value leisure activities. But I had felt a sort of persistent ache and wonder that pulled me back to a year that I spent in the Peace Corps, wandering in the dust at the foot of sky-high birch trees, terrified and thrilled at the sensation of being unknowable, mysterious to myself, unseen. I watered my plants, and I loosened my StayFocusd settings, back to forty-five daily minutes. I considered my Freedom parameters, which I had already learned to break, and let them be…

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, in 1654…

Sitting quietly in a room alone is for experts.

~ Jia Tolentino, excerpts from What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away The New Yorker, April 22, 2019

Notes: Essay – Thank you Sawsan for sharing! And publicly highlighting another addiction. Image: Nico Milk


  1. If any device is valued as much as breathing, then it’s time to put.it.down…

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Funny, reading this piece I felt rushed and somewhat stressed. Even the language feels frenetic.
    May I resist the pull of the lemmings around me. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    You tell me!! … ‘ “Nothing is harder to do than nothing,” Jenny Odell writes, in her new book,“How to Do Nothing.” …Odell details, with earnest wonder, moments in her life when she was reoriented toward these values. Jia Tolentino, excerpts from What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away The New Yorker, April 22, 2019.’

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t read it yet. And I forgot to mention that it came from Katrina Kenison’s Facebook page from yesterday!
    I’m not on my phone a lot, but I would like to be able to not look at it for days.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Relax... says:

    I’m trying to save my teenaged grandson from a full-blown YouTube addiction. His phone has to be down here for the night, at least, even on school vacation weeks — and earlier on school nights. (I’ve found it is not so for his friends — and phones are allowed all day long in school!) He, too, cooks and eats with his face ever on the phone screen. It’s unnerving. The village needs to help address the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I resisted getting a smart phone for the longest time, in fear that I would be sucked down the rabbit hole. I manage to stay fairly free, but I will confess that I get a little twitchy if I haven’t looked at my phone in an hour or so. For all the conveniences they afford, I think these devices are largely a negative in our lives. And when I see the degree to which young people are tethered, I want to scream. My nieces have trouble with face-to-face communication, texting me from across the room or down the hall. It troubles me….deeply.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ohhhhhh … don’t get me started.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I cannot lie. I have moments where I feel completely tethered to my phone. It is an addiction. That said, I accidentally on purpose leave it upstairs when I’m downstairs more and more often… and not enough.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. What a pretty picture Jia Tolentino is painting here! N.O.T….
    I started to hyperventilate about 4 lines into the essay. But maybe one shouldn’t ask the advice or comment of someone who bought their smartphone for the quality of the phone’s camera!!! 😉
    It helps NOT being present on social medias, I use WhatsApp a lot, mail much but mostly also write letters, texts, cards – and I mean on real paper. I’m also ‘forgetting’ my phone when I go out or for a visit – or use it then strictly for photo opps…. And yet, it still stresses me!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I have a mobile phone and don’t like to leave the house without it, but I general only use it for messages and to make phone calls

    Liked by 1 person

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