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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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Crying It Out

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Last night as I was closing the curtains and turning out the light in my bedroom, I received a text from a girlfriend. “R U out of class yet?” I deliberated for a moment if I should respond, the heaviness of my limbs encouraging me to wait until morning, the middle school grammar begging me to flip the phone over. “Yup, crawling in bed.” My fingers hit the keys almost automatically, as if driven by some sort of external Mischievous Spirit of Texting. “: /” She responded. How could so much meaning be conveyed in two dots and a dash? I wondered as I obligatorily sent her that all-probing ubiquitous 21st century question: “What’s up?” I watched the three dots, my eyelids half mast. “Can I call u for like 2 mins while u lie in bed lol.” I groaned. Why did I have to even respond in the first place? Why can’t I ever just leave conversations dangling? “Nooo, lol, I am sooo tired, I’ll call you in am.”* I extended my arm to place the phone on the nightstand and then stopped, the : / staring me down. For some reason I couldn’t shake those beady eyes, that slanted mouth. “Unless it’s important. Obviously if you are upset over something I’m here.” The phone instantly rang.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I’m one of those people who has always relied on others when I’m feeling like shit. That’s not to say that every time I break into tears I reach for the nearest set of open arms (although it’d be awesome to see the reaction of say, the stranger sitting next to me in 12 Years a Slave when I draped my sobbing being in their lap), but I do enlist my closest friends or my mom when I’m having a dark day or night of the soul.** I’ll usually make it through about 5-10 minutes of soul-contorting pain before breaking down and reaching for the phone. After all, misery does love company.

In some ways, my tendency to immediately seek out the comfort of others makes me feel weak. Sure, it was fine to tearfully call up my friends in middle school when Charlie didn’t pass back the note in math class, but I’m 28 years old now, a grown woman. I shouldn’t need to consult my girlfriends every time things aren’t going perfectly with a new guy, or I’m feeling unsure about my career, or I’m upset over being stuck on a blog post. I mean, I’m mature enough to handle my own feelings, to learn from my mistakes, to reflect in the solitude of my own mind. Aren’t I?

Well, yes and no. There is a time and place for self-introspection, for journaling and working through one’s feelings alone, and then there is a time to lean on others. The challenge is being able to recognize which method of coping the situation calls for. Not hearing back for several hours from a text message you sent to a guy you like, no matter how anxiety-producing and nerve-grinding, does not warrant a conference call with your female support group. This is not only a waste of their time, but will leave you feeling utterly pathetic when he responds 20 minutes after said call apologizing for the delay in his response because he was having lunch with his dying grandmother. Trust me, it’s better to just distract yourself with any number of wonderful activities – knitting, learning French, skydiving, actually hanging out with your girlfriends and talking about politics or philosophy or the fashion comeback of the crop top – then to destroy yourself over some dangling text message conversation. (Now, if the next text he sends is “I want to break up with you,” then you can make the call.)

On the other hand, there are occasions when you should absolutely reach out and seek advice and comfort. Last year when I was dealing with an emotionally abusive relationship, I could not have made it through without the support of my loved ones. The night I finally broke free of that damaging situation I spent all day talking with my mom and two best friends, garnering the courage I needed. I’d been struggling for a couple of months to get out of it on my own, but it wasn’t until I really reached out that I was able to do so. Some things are just too large to be contained in a single vessel. Sometimes, you just really need that shoulder to cry on.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I answered the call immediately. She had been there for me over the last couple of weeks as I had been trying to make sense of a relationship, and I wanted to return the open arms and ears. Her voice was weak and watery, and any annoyance I had felt over the postponement of my bedtime quickly evaporated. For the next 45 minutes, she poured out her fears, her pain, her loneliness, her insecurities. I listened and responded as best I could, wanting to make sure she felt seen and heard but also trying to provide guidance. As we talked it out, I became more and more acutely aware of a certain symbiosis that was occurring. I recognized so much of myself in her, and through this process of sharing I could feel us both obtaining a clearer picture of ourselves. Just as a piece of art can deepen one’s understanding of the world, so too was this crying out of the soul helping both of us better grasp our own humanity.

The conversation finally began to wind down close to 1 o’clock. “Thanks for talking me off the ledge there,” she said, her voice stronger, regaining vitality. “Of course, that’s what friends are for,” I replied, grateful for the trust she had put in me. “Okay, you sound tired, I’m letting you go to bed now. Sorry that was longer than two minutes.” We shared a laugh and hung up. I rolled over and squeezed the teddy bear I’d had since birth, saying a silent thank you to all of the people who’d helped me through my own dark nights.

 

*I’m perfectly capable of using shorthand and butchering the English language when others do it with me, but the day I substitute “u” for “you” is the day I stop calling myself a writer.

** The woman in front of me during a screening of this film handed me back tissues and asked if I was okay. I probably could have hugged her.

At Least We Didn’t Have Sex

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I met Greg on a double date with another guy. Actually, it became more of a group date, because he invited another guy, who in turn picked up two more girls for our dinner table. A party of seven can hardly be called a date, and therefore I felt little remorse in asking Greg for his number after my original suitor called it an evening. (That and the fact that suitor #1 had actually defended Wal-Mart’s employment practices and denied climate change – sorry, John, it would never have worked out).

I’ve had enough years in the field that I should know to always let men come to me. It’s a basic human law – boy chases girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again, and so on and so forth. It never works the other way, unless you are trying to deconstruct the entire genre of romantic comedy, in which case it might, just MIGHT, work if you are Reese Witherspoon. But for the most part, this simplest of dating rules is hard and fast. And repeatedly broken by yours truly.

To be fair, after the initial contact – “Great meeting you! Enjoy the rest of your night! X Amy” – Greg did get into the driver seat. Well, sort of. He began texting me every day, cute, simple inquiries, and even made Google stalking seem utterly charming (he sent me a headshot of myself with a message “look how adorable you are”- pretty creepy, except when it’s coming from a gorgeous 6’3” blond Olympian god). However, I made the mistake of suggesting our first date. I should have known right then and there it was doomed to fail.

The actual date itself was far from a failure. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I met him at his place in Santa Monica around 4 pm and we ventured out on beach cruisers to enjoy the impossibly perfect weather (78 and sunny, in case you forgot). We chatted and laughed and listened to Arctic Monkeys from his Jambox, and my god did he have the most incredible calves and shoulders. We stopped in Venice Beach at the end of the boardwalk, got Kombucha from the mini mart, and drank it while discussing global economics and Bill Maher on the pier (I know, heaven, right?)

And it didn’t end there. We ditched the Kombucha in favor of Jalapeno Margaritas, and that’s when it happened. I dropped the bomb. “Sooo… Do you want kids?” Why the hell did that just come out of my mouth?! He kind of half smiled, then replied, “I don’t know yet, I’m a little indifferent.” Okay, maybe not the answer I was looking for, but it was fine, I guess. But then he continued, “I feel so bad for girls, it must be terrible having to worry about the clock.” And in that instant I knew. I knew that he knew what I was after, and I’d freaked him out. I flailed around for a few minutes before finally saving face with an even more extreme topic – near death experiences. Lucky for me I have a really good one which I always fall back on in dire circumstances, and it worked. Our easy rapport resumed.

We made one more stop for espressos and chocolate (I know, right?!), then returned to his place. His darling rescue dog Blair jumped all over us until we agreed to take her out. It was now a little past 7, or as I like to call it, The Jasmine Tree Hour. His street was lined with them, and I commented on how the fragrance differed from the trees we have in Hollywood. “Better? Worse?” he asked. “No, just different,” I replied. And he pulled me into that swim god’s torso and kissed me. Soft, gentle, perfect.

We got back to his place once more and changed for dinner. He caught a glimpse of me with my shirt off in the bathroom and apologized. A wonderfully sweet reaction, except I really just wanted him to rip all of my clothes off. I sat on his bed and played with Blair as he finished getting ready, then stood up and moved close to him. I leaned in and kissed him deeply. Fatal mistake #3. He pushed me up against a wall and it was hot. Too hot. He felt amazing – his hair, his body, his lips. He picked me up and placed me on the bed. We rolled around, clothes on, for several minutes. I ended up on top, and finally pulled away. “I’m in two places about this,” I whispered. “I understand,” he said, “let’s go get something to eat.”

I don’t think I even need to tell you that dinner was great. Conversation flowed like an electrical current, coursing between family, career, TV shows, creative goals. When our waitress asked about dessert and he confessed he had a terrible sweet tooth, I wanted to propose right then. My capacity to fall so quickly never ceases to astonish me. After dinner, we made out on his kitchen counter for at least 15 minutes, before I realized it was midnight and I still had a friend’s birthday to attend back on the east side. I was proud of myself for managing to keep my dress on, a small victory, but one I felt confident would keep me in the game. I got in my car and instantly texted two girlfriends – “it was amazing! He’s amazing! Ahhhhh!”

And those things were true. It was amazing. He is amazing. I was literally saying “ahhhh” in my car. So then why didn’t he call? I spent the next day trying not to think about it, hiding my phone from my loose fingers (they have a mind of their own when it comes to texting). Since the first night we met, he had messaged me every day, and now—nothing. I felt like crying. Why did I have to be so aggressive? Why did I lay 52 cards on the table? Why do I always break dating rules that have been in place since the Stone Age? Why why why why why? Anybody privy to my inner monologue that day would have been drive insane. And I was.

I understand why people hate dating. You put yourself out there, open up that sensitive spot we spend most of our time protecting, start to imagine another possibility for your life… But that’s just the thing. Just because one person’s imagination takes them down an aisle, doesn’t mean it’s a shared experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I was ready to marry Greg, it was just for those 8 hours, during that kiss, well…

The reality is someday I’m going to meet the guy who I share that day with and he does call, whether it’s boy chase girl, girl chase boy, or everyone chases everyone. Because ultimately, it’s not a game. It’s a partnership. And for all of the Gregs in the world, there are a million reasons why it just doesn’t work out. It doesn’t mean I’m not special or worthy of love or that he didn’t have an amazing time too. It just means that it wasn’t the right thing right then for the both of us. Because it’s not a simple, one way, Jasmine tree-lined street, it’s a crazy, jam-packed, ten-lane 405 freeway. And that can take some serious patience.

And hey- at least we didn’t have sex.