About the Author
Kim Stolz is a former contest on America’s Next Top Model, MTV News anchor, and current director of equities derivative sales at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. She is a graduate of the Brearley School and Wesleyan University. In 2012, she was named one of the 100 most compelling People of the Year by Out magazine. She lives in New York City.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Unfriending My Ex 2
One of my best friends—we’ll call her Donna—recently sent me an e-mail. The proportions of its craziness both shocked me and felt strangely familiar. She wrote:
This morning I was waiting for the subway and managed to drop my iPhone onto the tracks. It would have been run over by a train. I panicked! Without hesitation, I jumped onto the tracks to retrieve it. Two very nice men pulled me back up. Everyone on the platform thought I was pulling an Anna Karenina. So embarrassing. I was waiting for the express, but the local came first and I boarded immediately.
Anyone who’s lived in New York City knows never to wait near the edge of the subway platform for fear of falling onto the tracks (or getting pushed by a random lunatic). My friend grew up in the city and is well aware of this rule. Nevertheless, this responsible twenty-nine-year-old, the same twenty-nine-year-old who got a near-perfect score on her SATs and went to Princeton, risked her life and voluntarily jumped onto the subway tracks, just to save her iPhone. A piece of plastic.
The rational part of me says: I can’t believe that we are so desperate to hold on to our phones that we’d put ourselves in danger. But the truth is I’m pretty sure that if this same friend dropped her iPhone onto the subway tracks tomorrow, she wouldn’t hesitate to attempt this feat again. And neither would I.
I think about the many times I wasn’t able to tear myself away from my phone to pay attention to the person right in front of me. Or all the times a person right in front of me has been too busy calling, texting, e-mailing, tweeting, and updating a status to give me the time of day. A year ago, I was working rather late on this very book. I was trying to reword an anecdote, and I asked my wife to help me. She said, “Hmm,” and looked down for a while. I assumed she was thinking about it, mulling over all of the different ways she could help my poor anecdote. About ten minutes later, I became skeptical. This seemed like an inordinate amount of time to be thinking. I leaned over and realized that she was playing Candy Crush. Not only was she playing the game, but she was buying more lives, which meant she had played at least three rounds in the previous twenty minutes. I was alarmed and exclaimed that I thought she was helping me with my book! Her response was that she had received an e-mail, checked it, responded, and then had forgotten about helping me and decided to start up a game of Candy Crush. The fact is, I can’t blame her. I spent an hour this morning trying to beat Level 287 in Candy Crush instead of finishing this chapter (btw, I’m really proud of being on Level 287). And even as I sit here now attempting to write, my father is sending me repeated FaceTime requests that come directly to my computer. He thinks it’s funny to FaceTime when he is fifteen feet away from me.
About six months ago, a friend called me to ask me for job advice. She called my work line early in the morning (which is never a good plan if you want my full attention, because it means that I have my iPhone fully in front of me while I talk on the landline). She was deciding between staying in her job at a prominent advertising company or leaving and opening up her own agency (which she absolutely did not have enough experience or connections to do). At around minute seven of the conversation, I became immersed in my iPhone on a group text discussing the affair one of our friends was having with another (far more juicy than the job hunt!) and I found myself making the unavoidable and totally distracted “Oh yeah, that’s amazing” and “Yeah, definitely” and “Wow . . . Wow . . .” comments that are code for “I AM NOT PAYING ATTENTION.” Before I knew it, my friend had said, “You know what, you’re right. Okay, I gotta go. I love you!” and gotten off the phone. I assume it was the “Yeah, definitely” default that gave her the justification to and confirmation that she should quit her job and start her own company. Which is exactly what she did. Sadly, she did not have much luck (which I could have told her would happen had I been listening!) and she closed down her agency within a year, couldn’t find a job, and went to business school. Oh well.
It never feels good to know that you aren’t being a good friend. The guilt always surfaces once you see how annoyed your friend is when you leave them for the night. Afterward, you think, Oh God, I shouldn’t have checked my phone in the middle of that—but at the time, you see the text notification or hear the irresistible chime of a new e-mail and your hand reaches for the phone before you even realize you’re doing it.
In informal surveys of my friends and colleagues, one out of every two people I talked to check their phones immediately after sex, and almost 10 percent check their phones in the middle of the act. The smartphone has become the modern post-sex cigarette, no less addictive and far more irresistible.
I speak from experience. I’ve been known to check my phone immediately after going to bed with someone—and there were definitely a few instances when I heard it buzz or saw the notification pop up and interrupted whatever I was doing to check it. Like most people, I wasn’t even waiting for any particular message; it was just to relieve the anxiety I feel after a period of time when I haven’t checked my phone. I can recall a particular time four or five years ago when I was “in the act” and suddenly saw my iPhone light up. I saw a small green box, which meant it was a text message—much more thrilling than the blue box (e-mail), beige box (Instagram), or orange box (Twitter). My ex-girlfriend happened to see it too and knew me too well. “You have to be kidding me” were the words I think I got (by the way, not words you want to hear “in the act” for any reason whatsoever). I tried to force the argument that she had already ruined the moment so I might as well just check the phone. That didn’t work. She went the dramatic route and exclaimed that if I checked it, it would show how truly NOT devoted I was to our relationship (ah, women . . .). I weighed my options. And then something miraculous happened. Her phone, next to mine, also lit up. It was green. Like two cowboys (cowgirls?) walking into opposite sides of the local bar, we stared at each other. Who would make the first move? Suddenly we were on an equal playing field. “Why are you looking at me like that? I’m not going to answer it!” she said. I was back to being the loser who couldn’t resist. At this point, it was clear that the night from that angle was over. So I reached over and checked my phone. CNN Breaking News—Samsung unveils the Galaxy Smartphone on Verizon. Are you kidding me? I looked over at my girlfriend. She was texting back her ex-girlfriend who had happened to text her that she would be coming into town the next day. Man, I really lost that one.
My girlfriend eventually decided that neither of us was allowed to check our phones until fifteen minutes after getting out of bed, which was a great rule that I followed . . . for about six months. We just couldn’t help ourselves. I don’t know any two people who currently wait the fifteen minutes. I’ve asked around. From when I started writing this book three years ago through today, there has been a marked acceleration of our addiction and thus a marked decrease in our free time. Fifteen minutes? I haven’t had fifteen minutes to just sit and enjoy something since 2007. It just doesn’t happen. That said, I still think it’s a good idea, if you can do it, because looking at a phone so intensely interrupts that afterglow and the bonding time two people should share. That is the cheesiest sentence you’ll find in this book, I promise. But it’s true! Far too often we surrender moments we should have together to check our phones. We simply can’t stop.
Some time ago, I took my now-ex-girlfriend Gina on a four-day trip to a spa for her thirtieth birthday. I figured that an escape to a far-off and deserted place replete with professional massage therapists, bottles of wine, and so-called Japanese soaking tubs would be a welcome and necessary respite.
After boarding the plane and suffering a momentary panic attack when I thought the in-flight Wi-Fi wasn’t working, I was relieved when I saw “Gogo Inflight” available in the wireless network list. I was finally ready to start relaxing, my iPad, iPhone, chargers, and USB cords in hand.
Forty minutes into a game of wireless Uno with someone named “ManOfTheMountain” from Pyongyang—how anyone managed to get an iPad or iPhone into North Korea and commence a game of wireless Uno I will never know—I felt someone tapping my shoulder. Apparently, Gina had been saying my name repeatedly for two minutes, but I had been so focused on my game, and the music coming from my Pandora app was so loud, that I hadn’t heard her.
“I have an idea for this weekend,” she said.
“What?” I asked, expecting her to suggest activities like couple’s massages, dinner in town, or tennis—all acceptable options from my point of view.
“I think we should make this a technology-free trip. No iPhones, iPads, Gchatting, or e-mailing. Let’s just hang out and reconnect and forget the outside world.” Oh no . . . I felt a jolt of worry. This idea was not acceptable.
But after taking a deep breath, I had to admit that the idea was actually quite sweet, thoughtful, and definitely novel considering the world we lived in—and considering it was me she was talking to. This was her birthday trip, so I agreed to the plan. I hoped I could do it, but history and my gut told me otherwise. (I had done my cleanse a few months before but had quickly reverted to my junkie ways.) Almost immediately, a wave of unease swept over me. I looked down at my phone the way a fisherman might look at his wife (or husband) right before setting off on a three-week sail and stuttered what I knew was probably a lie: “Y-yeah. Sounds awesome, I’m down.” I then proceeded to do a mental run-through of our vacation schedule, looking for potential moments—massages, manicures, getting dressed—when Gina would be busy so I could quickly “reconnect” with my technological devices.
And over the next four days, reconnect I did. I pretended to be reading a book or the New York Times on my iPad when I was really using Gchat with friends I would be seeing in two days. I tried to wear outfits with pockets so that I could sneakily bring my phone to the bathroom to get a few texts in during dinners and lunch by the pool. It turns out that 90 degree weather is not conducive to hiding digital devices. Perhaps most embarrassingly, I connected headphones to my iPhone and covered it so I could pretend I was just listening to music, turning my back and typing any moment I could. It was pathetic.
I felt bad that I wasn’t being honest with Gina, but I felt guilty so much of the time that I’d become almost immune to it. I’d given up trying to change. Part of me didn’t even care—I was just obsessing about when I could use my devices again. On the last day of the trip, Gina asked me if I could please at least stop plugging earphones into my iPhone as she was aware in the perfect silence of the spa that there was no music coming out of them. She had known the whole time. She had given up on me. But this was okay—I had given up on myself years ago. I was an addict. The least I could do was accept it.
Sure, it can make me feel depressed and anxious, and I live with a near-constant state of guilt because of it, but I will always go back to it, no matter what.
I wanted to know if others felt the same way. I asked hundreds of people to describe their relationship with their smartphone. They used words like addicted, love/hate, dependent, marriage, lifeline, wife—and even tortured, chained, and captive. In fact, almost 80 percent of those who responded used these types of negative, obsessive words, compared to only 20 percent who used positive words like practical and useful. A few said that they had given up their iPhones and felt more free without them, only to buy them again later because they felt they were “missing out” on too much.
I found it heartening in a way to know I was far from the only one who got seriously stressed out when I heard the ping or buzz or triton (or the Beverly Hills, 90210 ringtone) or any other alert that a message was waiting. Most people talked about the anxiety and frustration they feel because of their ever-present need to check. One person said, “I need to get rid of the message notification immediately,” while another described it as “incredibly frustrating, to the point of madness.” There were, of course, some extremes, such as the person who said, “[Text messages and Instagram notifications] make me feel really antsy, like when I’m the last person in a store before it closes. Also it kind of makes me feel like I need to pee.” Another said, “The waiting message makes me feel fanatical. It is gut-wrenching.” Overall, out of more than two hundred people in my informal poll, more than 60 percent used words like anxiety, stress, and frustration to describe their physical and mental reactions when they know a message is waiting for them. And yet we can’t even fathom giving up our phones.
• • •
Some people use specific time frames to discuss their child’s developmental stages; I use them to describe the trajectory of my smartphone addiction. When I switched from my PalmPilot to a BlackBerry, I felt like my life was finally going somewhere. When I finally switched from a BlackBerry to an iPhone, it felt like the dawn of a new era. And every time I upgrade my iPhone, I feel as though I have a new lease on life. About 90 percent of my decision to switch from a BlackBerry to an iPhone a few years ago was based on my inability to function as a healthy and focused human being when the red light on my BlackBerry was blinking. I know that I could have simply turned off the notification function that many of us refer to as the “blinking red light”—in fact, I did that three times, only to turn the light back on less than a week later because I couldn’t stand not to know when messages came in, and without it I was checking my phone even more. A friend who also recently switched to the iPhone told me that getting rid of the blinking red light was also one of her main reasons for tossing her BlackBerry—because she had become like Pavlov’s dog. “I would see that blinking light out of the corner of my eye and it haunted me,” she said. “I saw the light blinking when it wasn’t even blinking at all.” We both thought switching to an iPhone would help. I fooled myself into thinking I would feel differently as long as there wasn’t a blinking red light. I soon learned that there is a very underused function on an iPhone that alerts you with three quick flashes (like lightning!) whenever you have a new message. (For those of you who want to further complicate and accentuate your addictions, go to Settings>General>Accessibility>LED Flash for Alerts. You’re welcome. I’m sorry.) It’s the brightest light I’ve ever seen. After having it on for a few months, I began feeling as though I was experiencing the beginning of a seizure every time I got an e-mail, text, or notification. For my own health and peace of mind, I turned off the LED. Unfortunately, this did not stop me from still being tortured by the pop-up messages.
It’s no wonder we start twitching when we get any sort of electronic notification, because, like Pavlov’s dog, our brains have been rewire...
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