Empty Moments

Waiting for the eggs to finish cooking – open the news and check in on the entire world.

Going out to walk the dog – grab the headphones and listen to a podcast.

While the barista makes your coffee – check your email and delete a few unwanted promotional offers.

Your daughter steps out of the room to grab a book – find the right animated GIF to respond to your friend.

Putting the car in park and turning off the engine – look through recent photos I took so I can begin planning my next post.

Your wife is looking up something on the calendar – ingest some Twitter.

Waiting for the traffic light to turn from red to green – clear your Facebook notifications.

Taking a shit – scroll through Instagram until you’re ‘All Caught Up’.

When I was a smoker, I was always on the lookout for a break in the flow- that chunk of free time for a cigarette. Finished my meal a few minutes early? Step outside. Just arrived at the grocery store? One in the parking lot before I go in. Commercial break? I’ll be right back.

This was not usually a conscious effort. I was not actively thinking about when my next cigarette would be, but when a good ‘let’s grab a smoke’ moment would strike, my body would react instinctively. As if responding to a signal implanted in my mind under hypnosis, my hand would walk itself down to that rectangular bulge in my pocket, a fresh pack of American Spirits (or Marlboro Lights or Newports or whatever it was that year). I’d find myself carried out the door to the nearest open patio.

There was no inner dialogue with myself (Fancy a cigarette, Brian? I think I do, Brian. Then let’s go stand by a dumpster alone under that six inches of ledge protecting us from the rain, Brian. ). I never really asked myself because I never needed to ask myself. Asking me if I wanted a cigarette was like asking Rivers Cuomo if he wanted to date an Asian girl. It all happened automatically, a habit ingrained over years of mindless self-indulgence.

I may be overly sensitive to the gravitational pull of my iPhone, but I do feel the same impulses rising up. Unlike cigarettes, a smartphone isn’t inherently bad for you, which makes it more or less insidious, depending on how you look at it. In some ways it’s easier to quit cigarettes because you can look at quitting as a black and white choice. You can remove them entirely from your life, because you’re not also using them for anything productive or meaningful. When it comes to smartphones, however, we still would like to engage with them, which means we have to actually deal with the underlying problems, namely our fractured attention, our yearning for distraction, and our fear of silence.

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