On Putting Down The Phone

Went to sleep, last night, in a bit of a weird way. I left my phone downstairs, charging on the charger, and tried to rest the old fashioned way — by simply closing my eyes. It was an interesting experience, if only because I wound up tossing and turning for what, at times, felt like hours. It might have actually been hours, only I wouldn’t have known, since it is not like I had access to a clock or anything. Imagine what the watch industry has gone through, dealing with people who used to buy watches but now are content to merely tell the time by looking at their phones (which are always by their side).

The thing about going to sleep this way is that for centuries, this is how it has always been done. It is only in the last few years, arguably the last ten or fifteen, that people have had access to phones, which they could take into bed with them and look at for hours before they drift off to sleep. I wondered, laying there, how my life might have been different had I been able to look at a phone all those years, growing up, when my mind was still developing. I thought about my daughter, who is a toddler now, and how she sleeps, without the aid of anything, rather comfortably I might add, no blanket or pillow. Each night I lay her down and she drifts off to sleep with the only thing in her head the thoughts that she is at that point having. What is she thinking about, I don’t really know.

But it’s all useless, this stuff. It’s not like when I go to sleep and I am looking at my phone that I am really learning anything new. I am browsing the internet, filling my mind with junk. On occasion, I am reading Wikipedia, learning about this thing or that; but by and large, I am merely checking out the news, which is always a rehash of something that happened, some commentary on it — in the end, it is not a thing that matters, in fact it is marvelous how little it matters at all. And years ago maybe I fell asleep in ways that took longer, maybe I slept harder, maybe I did not sleep very well at all, but what I had in that time, which I would love to get back, and which I recall feeling quite good about last night, was my thoughts.

We talk about unplugging, how it is important to spend time device free. But we get that time already; it happens in the morning, as soon as we wake, and it happens in the evening, when we lay our heads to rest. It also happens if we are commuting, driving somewhere, but even then we like to distract ourselves with music or podcasts, phone calls and whatnot. The thing about free time is that we like to find ways to fill it up; Americans will do anything to not think. But imagine all the things that would get thought about if we had time to think them.

Now, the truth is I can’t even recall what I was thinking about last night. They were just thoughts that raced through my mind as I was trying, in my own way, to become drowsy. But that’s the point! All thoughts are not meaningful thoughts. You can’t have every single thought be a thought that is worth landing on. You have them and you let them drift away, because that is the nature of thinking — it is a fleeting thing, and if, by chance, the thought returns to you, then you will know that it was a thought worth having.

Which is kind of what I am saying. We used to ruminate on things, sit and stew, we used to wonder. We used to dream. Like, just laying there dreaming about something you wanted to do, that was enough to make you feel that you should do it; but if you were distracted your whole life, if you were content with the hand that you were dealt because you were satiated by this stuff, then why would you go ahead and do anything at all.

I need to try to do that more often, sleep without the aid of the phone before bed. It was a great thing, a thing worth feeling, and I know it sounds sad, me typing about it this way — like, is this really how far we have fallen, in the age of coronavirus, wild fires and racial unrest, what a silly first world problem — but fuck it, it is what it is.

I have slept with that fucking phone by my bedside for what feels like years, and I can’t say it has gotten me anywhere, honestly. Maybe it is time to give it a rest.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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