Digital Minimalism: An Easy Hack

There are a lot of tricks to getting off the phone and into the world. Turn the screen grey, set timers for app use, shut off the data and only use the thing on wifi, leave it in airplane mode most of the day, turn off notifications, and more. I have a three-step tip that may be even more powerful.

  1. For one day leave your phone behind, powered off, or on do-not-disturb. Whatever you can manage is fine but those three options are in the order of their power.

  2. Watch people use their phones. Hear them blast music through headphones. Watch them text while their child goes ignored. See them read texts and email during intermission at the theater. Try to ignore them recording the concert you're attending.

  3. Realize that we have met the enemy and he is us.

My phone is in my pocket. Notifications are off. I've been reading a book. My students are supposed to be reading as well. One next to me has his headphones blaring and hasn't turned a page in six minutes. He looks at the page then shifts to the phone. He's not just listening to music. He's got a video playing and can't look away for long. He has also, in six minutes, received 37 notifications. I've listened to the phone buzz.

How sad this makes me. He is a high school senior who cannot set his phone aside, cannot let it go. The phone often leads him into terrible, angry fits. I've watched him laugh at something on it, then look around as if to share before realizing no one else has seen it. He often asks, what? but is rebuffed because no one wants to bring him up to speed on the real world he chooses to miss.

Watching him I see me. God knows how much I missed when I was on Facebook. Has there ever been a tweet worth remembering a year later? I should never waste time learning what the big orange maggot has done today, who he has fired, for what he is being indicted. That way leads to regret.

The quickest way to get me off my phone is seeing others lost to theirs. Maybe I want to be better than them. I certainly want to be better than I am when I'm acting like that.

Take a phone holiday and observe all those staring into their screens as if that was the only world. As if that was a world worth living in.

Teacher Sadness

How do you know you're done with a job?

I've been a teacher my whole adult life. Even my summer jobs have been about teaching. But I'm done. Here's how I can tell: I wrote this note to a kid (I didn't give it to him). It captures where I'm at with this job, the sadness it engenders.

Frank,

I worry that the sum total of your life will be framed within the narrow confines of an iPhone. To live virtually, through a phone, is no life at all.

How is a phone different from the book I'm trying to get you to read? Why is a book so good and a phone so bad? I'm glad I asked.

Phones are all about now and me. They are self-centered, ego-driven, isolating things. People argue that phones connect people, but I don't buy it.

Books are about forever and everyone including me. Books help us to make connections inside ourselves and with others near and far. Those connections last and build things. Plus you never have to charge a book or upgrade its operating system. It's a hell of a deal.

I wish texting had another name. Text is a sacred word. Books are texts. The Torah, The Quran, and The Bible are texts. Letters written to someone you love are texts. Writing is text and it is the top of the pyramid.

Texting, on the other hand, is brief snippets of conversation that are less substantial than the wind and more polluted. I wonder if there have been one hundred texts in the course of history worth saving. If there have been a dozen, that's a miracle.

I encourage you to set the phone aside and get into something more substantial like your book or even just the real world.

But here’s the thing: You and I both know you won’t. That makes me sad.

I signed off feeling there's little I can do for students so lost to headphones, screens, and a virtual world that leaves them anxious, angry, and isolated.

In the last half dozen years I've become less effective at reaching kids. This year it has made me so sad I can't go on. This job is pretty much killing my spirit.

There may be other teaching in my future, different kinds of teaching, but I don't know. I hope that whoever follows me in this job will be able to do it the way I used to, to make a difference, and keep themselves on an even keel, sailing off into the sunset. Me, I'm tacking in another direction.

Can It Be So Simple?

I woke this morning after a very bad night's sleep. It was four-forty. I turned off the alarm but lay there until five thinking, "I just can't." Everything, including getting up to pee, felt impossible.

Then I got up.

Maybe it was the urge to pee, but I think it was the pages. Though I want to know the reasons for everything, it probably doesn't matter. I got up. I peed, showered, and pulled on clothes. I went downstairs and considered coffee. Not today. I took my pen down to the basement nook to write Morning Pages.

That required:

  • Three pages of blank, lined paper
  • My favorite pen
  • Forty five minutes

That's it. Well, that and faith that I can fill three pages freely and that doing so may benefit me and the people I love.

Morning Pages aren't complicated. Get out of bed, pick up a pen, lay out three pages and start writing. Don't stop until the bottom of the third page. Tomorrow morning do it again. It's enough to get you out of bed. And if that won't do it, your bladder will.

Gonna Do It

I'm the classic "gonna do it" guy.

This morning out for a walk with my wife, having a serious talk to which I should have been paying better attention, I remembered deciding in graduate school to write a book about writing. I had the idea. I had the motivation. I had it all.

Twenty-six years later I still haven't written it.

I meant to. No, really. I swear.

I'm the alcoholic having one more drink before I quit, the smoker down to just eight cigarettes a day and switching to vaping, the spender going frugal right after I buy a cup of coffee and a cookie. I'm that guy.

Maybe you are too.

I'm starting something. I've started already and taken this short break to tell you before I get back to it. I'm cleaning my desk.

Big freaking deal.

It kind of is though. I'm cleaning a stack of stuff I've been "gonna do." There are three folders of paper, articles, notes, and drafts some of which are a year old. It weighs on me, drags me down. It's stuff I'm gonna do but don't.

Shouldn't I be doing it right now then?

I would but in the midst of doing it I thought, "I should write about this at some point." I was about to write a sticky-note reminder to that effect. It would have gone nicely with the other sticky notes on my planner, some two months old, saying similar things.

The post I imagined would be fewer than 600 words. I can draft 700 words in twenty minutes, edit it down to size in nine more, post it in one minute, and be done within half an hour. Then, having published it, I'd be even more motivated to do the work.

I also need a few guidelines and think better when I write them down like this:

  • Only three things can be left for later and each must be nailed to a date and time in my planner.
  • My desk must be clear down to the wood. I write better with the mess of only one project before me.
  • The clearing will take no more than half an hour.
  • Anything left at the end of the half hour goes in the bin even if it's a check, a note from my wife, or a Van Gogh.

There are forces telling me to get going now or never. My wife was saying as much on our morning walk. I'm fifty and have been writing for three decades with little to show. I can't go on that way. That's not a good enough life.

What are you gonna do?