Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
I’m going through withdrawal and have been for a few days now. I’m not exaggerating, either, which is a conclusion most of you will draw once I tell you what it is I’m in withdrawal from. Inside my body, there’s a noticeable tension that’s not usually there. Deep in my esophagus, somewhere near my stomach, there is this constant feeling of not pain, but a sort of palpable longing. Vaguely, it’s nausea, but it’s also a non-thinking bodily awareness of a nameless absence. My arm is twitching. I notice the twitch as I restrain my right hand from involuntarily reaching down to my right pocket —where my iPhone usually is—for, like, the 20th time today.
My iPhone isn’t lost, and it isn’t broken. I know exactly where it is—top drawer of my desk in Rubenstein. I could grab it at any moment and abate this pain, but I’m resolved not to. This is cold turkey.
I should stop here and clarify the intention of this column. I don’t intend to write presumptuously or didactically. I have no moral aspirations. I don’t want to suggest that all of you should disconnect from your smartphones for a week because it will make you a better person. I am not more holier-than-thou because I exercise self-control muscles regularly. I don’t have my act together in a puritanical sense. I locked my iPhone away in a fit of whimsy because a friend suggested it at the beginning of the summer, and we decided to run with the idea once we were back at Boston College. I locked my iPhone away because I thought it would be fun! Accordingly, this article aims to offer observations on the experience of an iPhoneless existence during a time in which we humans are becoming symbiotically dependent on these devices.
This brings me back to where I began—being without iPhone hasn’t just been something I think about, it’s something I feel. My body doesn’t understand the iPhone void as well as my mind does, so it’s revolting in peculiar ways—arm tics and the wordless despair in my gut. We tend to joke that people are addicted to their phones when they can’t put them down—when you lose them mid-conversation to a text message so you start yelling “YO” at them, raising the volume of your voice with successive “Yos,” but you don’t get a response. You end up looking around incredulously and awkwardly because despite the body standing next to you, you’re instantly alone. Your friend is lost to some dimension you don’t have access to. Once they finish the text you look at them and are all like, “Dude you’ve got a problem,” and they’re all like, “Huh, what were you saying?” Then of course you respond the only way you know how: “SMH, bro.” Excusing my digression, that word “addiction” might not be as severe or ironic as we may have originally thought.
So if anyone knows where a sort of methadone clinic for iPhone users is in the greater Brighton/Allston/Brookline area, please let me know. I am hurting. My thumb trembles sometimes because it’s feeling mistreated or underused. I feel like a junkie and I’m ashamed. I need a fix.
Other than these corporeal responses, which have been both funny (not funny peculiar, but funny “ha-ha” in the most sardonic of ways) and troubling, my mental life hasn’t arrived at anything profoundly revelatory in this experience, but it has shifted the scope of its focus. Days seem brighter in that I’m becoming slightly more cognizant of the colors in this world and how vivid they are in the sunlight (maybe I’m merely remembering this). As it turns out, iPhone’s retina display really doesn’t stand up to the number of pixels available in the physical world. This has made me smile at points, particularly when I walk between classes. This campus looks pleasant in autumn, which is nice, you know?
I’ve marveled at how good people are getting at staring into their phones and simultaneously navigating the physical world without looking directly at it. One morning, I counted how many people were glued to their devices whilst walking between the Rat and Carney: 34. And get this—I didn’t see one biped collision! I don’t even think I’m being sarcastic here. The brain’s capacity for multitasking is wicked remarkable.
I have felt more attentive during these cold-turkey times. I don’t mean that I pay more attention in class (I always pay attention in class, numbskulls). I mean that I’ve become more aware of the world around me. I spend more time looking at trees, the sky, and BC’s neo-gothic architecture. I notice people’s faces and the ways that they interact with (or don’t interact with) the same physical world that I exist in.
In that attentiveness, I’m finding that I’m starting to perceive myself as decidedly “other” from the masses around me. By that, I mean that I’ve actually become more aware of a channel of attention that I don’t have access to because of iPhone abstinence. I see people’s gazes oscillate between the physical world and a virtual one, and I wonder if they’re enjoying GIFs of donkeys paragliding (I spend too much time on Reddit) or are reading some funny words a person of significance has directed at them. I’m jealous and in the dark. At once, that virtual world takes on an infinite depth and dimension, from which I’m necessarily excluded. What I’m left with is what’s in front, side-to-side, and above me—all of which turns out to be more than I had noticed when I was on iPhone. I’m not going to offer opinions on whether these conscious experiences are “good” or “bad.” Draw your own conclusions and make of them what you will.
But, I am eager for my iPhone reunion. The withdrawal is a bit much to bear voluntarily.