We were out at a little local wine bar this weekend listening to live music. There were half a dozen people sitting with us at our table, and several of them–people well into middle age–kept checking their phones. We started talking about this–about how Young People carry their phones in their hands, like an extension of their bodies, and how even those of us who didn’t grow up with smart phones or even cell phones have gotten into the habit of checking them constantly. One woman began listing the reasons she needs to be available even on a Saturday night: she has family, her daughters are away at college, someone might need her.
That’s always been the case, but it’s only in the last couple decades that people have developed the obsession with being constantly available by phone and text. Yet everyone I talk to has a justification: young children, pregnant friend, aging parents. That’s understandable, but if that’s really the reason you’ve got the phone with you all the time, wouldn’t it be enough to have the ringer turned on so that, if there’s an emergency, it will ring and you can answer it? Meaning you don’t have to keep checking it constantly, right?
I believe the truth is that the “in case of emergency” justification is one we use because we don’t want to admit that we’re obsessed with keeping up with what everyone else is doing, even people we’ve never met. We want to feel as if we’re right in the middle of everything and completely in the loop.
But let’s think about what really happens when we’re constantly checking our phones. You’re in the studio, working, and your phone is lying on your table, where you can hear it if it rings. It might be your mother-in-law, after all. Very Important Phone Call, indeed. But you’ve developed the habit of picking up your phone and checking it every ten or fifteen minutes, and it feels weird not to do that just because you’re working, so you find yourself doing that: stopping what you’re doing to check for phone calls (maybe the ringer didn’t work), messages (maybe she texted rather than calling), Facebook updates (maybe she didn’t contact you but posted on FB instead). We’ve become so used to being in constant contact with friends and family that we can’t bear the thought that someone is doing something we don’t know about.
What baffled me are people who do it even while they’re working on something else: teachers, for instance, who keep their phones on their desks where they can check them constantly. Workers I see everywhere who are constantly pulling their phones out of their pockets to check them surreptitiously.
Is this you? Are you so connected that you can’t go for a couple hours without checking your phone? Have you ever thought about what that means to the way you work?
On Friday we’ll talk more about this, and I’ll suggest some ways you can begin to wean yourself away from one of the most common interruptions in our days.
For more thoughts on things that eat up your time, check out Chapter 2, “Making Time,” in my book, Creative Time and Space.
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