Phones Are Trash
They're disgusting and stupid and slowly murdering us all.
This is FEEL IT, a weekly soft landing, a way out, some relief, an offering. It's also my fourth column here, after Girl News and then Obseshes and also Li’l Thinks (my VICE ring was made out of pastel gummy candy and then dipped in gold eyeshadow glitter). Unlike the others, this column is semi-explicitly about me telling you what to do, self-help-ily, although I definitely tried to in the other ones, sometimes.
First up: managing life with a phone, these hard and greasy familiar spirits that give and take so much in the lives and brains of tenderhearted sweeties like you and me. Like: this thing was happening where I’d start to fall asleep and instead of the loose images and fantasies I used to see, this almost-dreamy collabo of my actual life and my semi-realized fears and desires, there was a quickly rotating series of images, like a cartoon flip book, or actually, like Instagram. So I took almost every app off my phone and now just do email on my computers, like a 1990s business lady (also email is disgusting and needs to get the fuck away from me!) AND use my phone for daily horoscopes and music and Instastories about dogs and my personalized reality-TV favorites only.
The first thing to do here is consider the structural problem that results in collective submission to an object, sure, but a close second, and maybe more important for practical, results-oriented kiddos like me, is to consider the ooze of inattention—a bioluminescent ooze, but an ooze nonetheless—that follows submission to a phone.
Seems like “inattention” should be the lack of something, but it’s not, it’s its own gross thing, a frantic occupation of a void that feels good, like so so so good, as long as you’re spinning in it, the same function as weaponized carbs, to take a for-instance from my own shitty day. (Cereal!!!)
Attention is the rarest commodity, the only thing anyone wants from us, the only thing we have to give. (Like: love is attention; likes are attention.) And the first thing our late-stage phone culture does, even before it really digs into the work of aggressively disassembling our vision and fingies, is scramble attention so completely that I’m not convinced we really remember what’s missing. When anyone talks about what they’ve lost in their surrender to technology, they seem bewildered by it, but not like they’re solving it. “I get so distracted when I’m reading, I can’t read more than a page before I pick up my phone” they say, but then it kind of ends there, like, “YEP, so that’s it!” So: okay????? Like, YES AND?
Where I really care about this is how it relates to the deep-self, and to feeling good and feeling better. You just can’t be really nice to yourself, or regard yourself, or even become aware of what you think and want and what you need, if you’re never quiet, alone, or unoccupied, if you’re always receiving and managing, even passively, live bright neon-white energy and acres of data. If we can agree that millennial burnout is real, and realer still for people without the hysterical privilege that “millennial” implies, can we also shake on the idea that opting in to peeing and sleeping and eating with your phone is a kind of self-harm?
Or, “Me-Archy”? Yeah, “neither,” I know, I know, I know. Let’s never have to say it out loud but we’ll just know it and think it.
So okay, stay with me, I’m still working this out: the problem with us and our phones is actually an outdated problem, one that made sense like five or even ten years ago, whenever we were still grinding ourselves into powders, fine pink and blue and silver dusts, powered by disgust and shame turned inward. Remember!? This is why even though “self-care” is corny, in phrasing and meaning, I still like it, because it marks something that was collectively identified as this urgent thing to do.
The vibe, before, was about just… taking it, when we were still in the dirt before the lotus bloomed, or blossomed, or whatever moondancing flowers do. When I think of me five years ago (aww!), or, when I accidentally see my old emails and chats and stuff, it’s just these high tides of rage and chaos and sadness. Overusing tech because I was/we were scavenging for meaning and relief, and still finding our people and our online atmospheres, made some sense, then.
But then, you know, all at once the world assploded and a normal human attention span became shrapnel (thanks in part to NEWS, yer welks) and the idea of assuming responsibility for our own care and pleasure became very suddenly essential, and we started to create as much of our own experience as possible, in mini-me-archies, lit by our feelings, the slush-puppy squish-stuff. Safety, softness, even boundaries, just aren’t coming from anywhere else, so here we are, doing it. So, the phone addiction grabby-baby stuff just isn’t for now, you know? We’re over it. Should be.
I have been after this so intensely for a while now that yesterday I commanded, just to myself and all stern, “Gentle!” It was cute.
As a feelspace, phones aren’t even good: the “touch” experience is hard, unyielding (unless you have an old Blackberry in which case, yuuuuuh), just a lot of tappa tappa tappa with no give, no exchange, no transformation. Isn’t that so unsettling? Like, everything else you do by touching has to give you something: even the click of a key on a laptop bounces back, is a compact. The real stuff is, like, touching skin or slicing a radish or pulling on a sweater or rubbing split ends or skimming the smooth grain of paper. Phones, though: yug!
(It’s unreal that we have invited them into some of the safest and softest and most private rituals, like falling asleep and waking up and meditating, when there are still alarm clocks. I have a Philips Wake-up Light and highly rec, but recognize the counter-intuition of buying more devices in order to defeat your devices.)
Phones chose to be sentient but not to be good. Mine turns off when it’s cold. I live in Toronto and use an iPhone 6 and these things are my own fault.
My Secret Agent Lover Man, the person I entrust with my self and truth and tears and needs and constant proximity and earthly future, occasionally puts his phone in his mouth when his hands are full of dog and keys and coffee and hoodie and whatever other boy-ephemera he deals with and you know I love him but does this also make me want to barf myself inside out? Yuh.
Think about how gross your phone is. So gross! That we aren’t ritualistically wiping off their crusts like twice a day is an important detail that the simulation got wrong.
Phones engender bad manners. If you are touching a phone in front of someone else, it’s rude. You’re being rude.
I had this good friend and then roommate and then ex-friend and ex-roommate who was baffling in that way particular to under-30 geniuses, but one thing he did continues to exist in my everywhere-imagination with perfect clarity: he never took out his phone, just never used it in front of definitely me and I think our other friends, too, and—I’M PRETTY SURE—he did it so we wouldn’t (theoretically) know he had one, and therefore couldn’t contact him, unless he was the one initiating. So, if I’m right, this is a way to be really observant and polite through a profound expression of dickishness, and I find that to be really something.
The psychic damage of violence and porn as everyday essentials, a demented Target aisle of the mind, has also consumed aspiration, and maybe some parts of pleasure. Instagram has desensitized us—okay there is no “us,” here, I know, but I’m definitely implicating you guilty fux, too—to wealth, taste and beauty to such an extent that I can only get it up for someone’s actual bank statement, or equivalent life evidence. Right? Or whatever else is for-real, for real.
So here I am, desiring of less entertainment and more pleasure. When I want to get really fucked up, and way-deep into emptiness, away-ness, silence, and removal from not only the un-real but from its mediation, from both attention and decisions about attention, I do, adorably, what I did when I was a little kid, before I had a phone: nothing.
The pleasure, and the care, comes from returning to the self, to alone-ness, and letting the phone fall out of your hand and into a dark recess. (For me: the designated “junk drawer” in the kitchen where it lives among decommissioned lip balms and pens.) It usually takes an hour or more for my left hand to stop clawing for it. A day later, even, I’m free.