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A Million Digital Pieces: A Cell Phone Addict Speaks Out

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I recently came across a tweet from the Huffington Post that caught my attention: “Distracted Driving is Rampant across America.” I clicked on it because I am – sigh gasp blush – a part of this rampant craze sweeping the country. I’ll even go so far as to admit that I can’t even remember the last time I got behind the wheel without my iPhone within texting distance (e.g. in my hand). But that’s not even the worst of it. Because I am currently suffering from an even more all-encompassing condition: Distracted Living.

I’ve had an unhealthy attachment to my phone for many years now. Pretty much since I got my very first Samsung my junior year of high school in 2003. Back in those dinosaur ages, my phone was considered awesome because it was in color and I could download specialty ringtones. (Pretty groovy, huh?) It didn’t even have e-mail, let alone Facebook or Instagram. Just good ol’ fashioned phone calls and text messages. But even that was enough to get me hooked.

A decade later, I need my phone the way Snoop Dogg needs marijuana. Or A-Rod needs steroids. Or Grandma Myrtle needs her slot machines. And I don’t just mean that figuratively. Because according to David Greenfield, the founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction,* cell phones actually create similar responses in the brain to drugs and gambling. Just thinking about receiving messages can raise dopamine levels, and actually hearing that “ping” or seeing that banner notification releases even more. That’s why most of us find it so difficult to put our phone in the trunk when we’re driving, even though we know we should. Heck, just typing that made my eye twitch.

While the dangers of Distracted Driving are pretty frickin’ obvious and difficult to argue – YOU COULD CRASH AND KILL PEOPLE – the ramifications of Distracted Living are somewhat less pronounced. But much more insidious. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  1. Distracted Living is bad for your love life.

Ever go on a date and both of your cell phones are on the table? Or maybe you’re able to keep it in your purse, but some time around the middle of eating your filet mignon you absolutely must excuse yourself to the bathroom to check your Twitter feed in a stall? This has happened to me. A lot. And it keeps me from having a fully connected experience with my romantic interest. Perhaps one of the reasons I’m still single. Fail. (And don’t even get me started on phones and sexy time. I’ve definitely been making out with a guy and the second I hear my hear that buzzing all I can think is What if it’s my agent?! Mood. Killer.

  1. Distracted Living interrupts your sleep cycle.

I only recently began switching my phone to silent mode instead of vibrate when I turn off the light at night, but even this doesn’t prevent my cell phone from screwing up my REMs. My brain is so desperate for Instagram likes that I now find myself waking up every few hours like an infant in need of breast milk. Last night I reached for my phone not once, not twice, but three times. As if the activity on Snapchat at 3am is more important than my dream of marrying Josh Hartnett. NOPE!

  1. Distracted Living causes you to miss important moments.

The other day while one of the women in our short film was dancing, I was so busy looking for my phone to try and take a picture of it that I missed the moment entirely. Oh, the irony. And although it wasn’t the end of the world, (I watched the second take), imagine if this happened while my future daughter was taking her first steps. Or my grandmother was taking her last breath.** Even just missing little things like plot points in a movie because I’m checking a Facebook comment are unfortunate, and can make for a confusing / less meaningful evening.

  1. Distracted Living hinders you in your purpose.

Whether your purpose is to fight Ebola or raise a family or write a super cool blog of random essays, texting/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Vine/Gmail/Whatsapp/Snapchat/Any Other Social Media Platform will not help you with this. Sure, it can help spread awareness, but it will not actually lead you to a cure, or feed your children, or put words on the page (except in this case, since I’m writing about it. Oh man, too meta.) If you want to actually accomplish something beyond retweets and likes, it’s important to maintain focus and stay dialed out. I’m gonna go out on a limb and bet that Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t take breaks from his cello every five minutes to check his Galaxy S5.

Okay, so this all sounds pretty horrible, right? Well, it is. Take it from someone who just checked her phone no less than 15 times while writing this essay. It’s taking everything in me not to look at it right now. ARGGGGG.

But here’s the thing. And this is important. As debilitating as Distracted Living can become, it’s never too late to overcome it. If Robert Downey Jr. can go from drug addict to Iron Man, I can certainly go from iPhone abuser to person living in the present. In fact, I already do it naturally every time I go overseas.*** But I don’t want to have to cross an ocean every time I wish to experience Focused Living. Which is why I’m going to break my addiction.

From today onward, I’m committing myself to small steps to rewire my social media riddled brain. Starting with that most serious of offenses: Distracted Driving. My phone is going in my purse which I’m zipping up and putting in my backseat. It’s not like I don’t still have Bluetooth for all those “emergencies.” I’m also going to leave it behind when I’m working out. I don’t need an update from CNN touting the benefits of exercise while I’m in the middle of exercising. (Plus, the sweat makes it difficult to use the touchscreen.) And instead of having my phone next to me while I’m writing or working on sides for an audition, I’m turning it off and practicing Attentive Creating. That way I won’t-

Oh shoot, my mom’s calling. TTYL!

*I wonder if they offer outpatient services… I should probably go look it up on the Internet and then make a phone call.

**Capturing this would be super creepy. But you know what I mean.

***Something about the new surroundings. And the time off work. And the cost of an international data plan.

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To Be or Not to Be… on Facebook

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When I first joined Facebook back on September 26, 2004, the site was still exclusively for college students. I had to register with my USC email, an address that has been defunct for almost a decade but still remains my log-in, in order to prove my collegiate status. I can’t remember the specifics of this particular day, about a month into my freshman year, but I’m pretty sure my thought process went something like this – Hmmm, The Facebook… sounds like an online yearbook… What the heck, everyone else is doing it, I’ll give it a go.* And so I signed up, happily choosing a profile picture, perfunctorily filling in details like my birthday and what classes I was taking, and completely ignorant of how it would one day control my entire existence.

Okay, maybe Facebook doesn’t control my entire existence, but sometimes it kind of feels that way. Like, a lot. Even though I consider myself a casual user – updating my status every day or two or three, posting pictures when I travel, promoting my blog – I still spend far more time on the site than I would care to admit. I can’t remember the last time a day went by without me scrolling through my newsfeed at least once (okay, five times). Maybe two years ago? Three? It’s a far cry from those early Facebook days back in 2004, when the first post on my wall didn’t come until May 10, 2005. On that hallowed day, a Mr. Matthew Jurow, a fellow Trojan I remember as being tall and having dark hair, wrote:

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Such a humble beginning to the page that would eventually become my public journal to the world! No likes, no comments (those didn’t come along until mid-October 2008), just a couple of grammatically horrific lines with an asterisk representing a holiday icon.** Those were simpler times.

Nowadays, my Facebook page is inundated with a million and one things, from video clips of American Ninja Warrior (Kacy killed it!) to advertisements for dating sites (yes, I’m on Match.com, no, I don’t want to join 18 other sites) to “friend’s birthdays” (I’ve still yet to give a gift – sorry!). There’s messenger, there’s Trending, there’s Pages and Groups and Events and apps. There’s not just one but TWO newsfeeds, as if it’s not enough for me to see that Devon has changed his profile picture, I must also be informed in real time that Anthony has posted on Sarah’s wall (!!). On good ol’ Facebook, there’s never a dull moment! Oh wait…

When I add up all of the hours I’ve spent mindlessly scrolling through useless, unedifying status updates from people I might not even recognize on the street, it makes my head spin. How many works of classic literature might I have consumed, or Fellini films? How many science experiments could I have conducted, or poems could I have written?*** The time I’ve wasted – that so many of us have wasted – is appalling, and quite frankly, an affront to the human race. Somewhere I can hear my impassioned junior year English teacher ranting on top of a desk about Facebook’s contribution to the decline of civilization: “Have you no intelligence?! Have you no SENSE?!

Worse than the time wasted is the time spent dovetailing into depression. There’s been more than one night where I’ve returned home, one martini too many to read The New Yorker or a Hitchens’ essay, and traveled down the Facebook rabbit hole of despair. Christina got married! Stephan is saving children in Africa! Courtney has an insanely flat stomach! Suddenly, I’ve made every wrong decision in my life and everybody else somehow holds the answers to the universe. Never mind that I haven’t seen Christina in ten years, or that Stephan just got over malaria, or Courtney happens to have calorie-defying genetics. The reality is only one person commented on my photo from the Hollywood Hills party I was just at and a mere 8 people liked my witty commentary on LA drivers this morning, but 180 people liked Anthony’s post on Sarah’s wall. Woe is me! The world is a cruel, cruel place!

If the above weren’t reason enough to consider deleting my page (which they are), then this last one definitely is: Facebook’s “Big Brother”-like presence. Over the past several years, they’ve been right up there throwing punches with the NSA, and each new development proves scarier than the last. Are they really selling our information to companies? Are they actually recording our conversations through our iPhone apps? Are they secretly turning us all into robots??? So many questions, so few answers. When the NYTimes has started looking to Facebook pages to do their reporting (see: profiles of victims from Malaysia Airlines flight 17), you know we’re in trouble. It’s pretty easy to imagine a not-too distant future akin to the one imagined by Dave Eggers in The Circle, in which one technology company controls everything. I know I’ve got three Apple screens and four social media sites in front of me right now!

But, all that being said…

I’m keeping my Facebook page. Like Hamlet, I’m opting out of technological suicide, and instead facing the slings and arrows of newsfeed black holes, FOMO, and terrifying surveillance. “Why?” You ask. Because for all of its negative qualities, I still love Facebook. If it weren’t for Facebook, I never would have hung out with Chamrong in Phnom Penh, or rented Frederic’s apartment in Paris, or reconnected with my friend Shannon from USC. I’ve hired DPs through Facebook, gotten meetings from it, stayed in touch with relatives I might otherwise drifted away from. As a guy I recently spoke to put it, “it’s great for the weak ties,” and those weak ties are important – for work, for travel, for dating, for stalking. Heck, there’s a very high chance you wouldn’t even be reading this if it weren’t for Facebook, and we all know how important my blog is!****

At the end of the day, I get to choose my relationship with Facebook. It’s me who is responsible for the time I spend, for the feelings I have looking at other people’s pages and photos and updates, for what I decide to post. If I’m uncomfortable with Facebook having access to certain photos or commentaries of mine, then I don’t have to share them on the site. In some ways, Facebook is teaching me how to use more discretion, how to check my own impulses, how to reframe some beliefs that aren’t serving me. Like a mirror, it’s reflecting back to me my own tendencies, for better or worse. I mean, is Facebook really causing my depression, or is it booze-fueled jealousy and a high school mentality turning the site into a popularity contest? For me, I admit, it’s the latter.

These are just my personal feelings on Facebook. As with anything, everyone will have their own unique perspective, shaped by their experiences, beliefs, upbringing, etc. I have nothing but respect for those who have chosen to deactivate, or never sign up. I could no more imagine my Dad on Facebook than purple pigs doing back flips, and he’s one of my favorite people in the world. So whether you choose to be, or not to be on Facebook, I’ll “like” you anyway. Happy posting!

 

*Yes, it was called The Facebook back then. Kudos to Mark Zuckerburg for dropping that little article. How creepy if we still called it The Facebook.

**Hard to believe this man, with his horrible punctuation and spelling, is now a postdoctoral associate. But congrats, Matt, guy I haven’t spoken to in 9 years.

*** 5 novels, 8 ½ Fellini films, 0 science experiments, and 25 shitty poems.

****Not important at all.

*****Sorry for the asterisks. Couldn’t figure out how to do superscripts in WordPress. #technologicallychallenged