Most days, I dream of chucking my iPhone 7 off a cliff. I imagine this $750 slab hurtling through the air, skipping across the surface of a turbulent ocean, and sinking deep, deep down into the murky depths. When that doesn’t work, I picture dropping it out a window and watching the screen shatter against the sidewalk, a thousand hairline cracks zigzagging across its glossy surface like lightning.
Hi. I’m a millennial, and I’m suffering from an acute case of technological exhaustion.
Surprising, I know. Millennials are supposed to be insufferable, selfie-snapping social media addicts who cry every time the Wi-Fi goes down. You know the type. Our noses are practically glued to our screens. We’d rather text than have a face-to-face conversation. According to the vast majority of millennial think pieces, we live for ephemeral likes, memes, and avocado toast.
The truth is, I miss the days when I didn’t have a smartphone. But not because I’m a technophobe. I love that I can play a game of Go with my friend in Japan, or wake up to a Facebook Messenger essay from an old classmate in California about Adam Driver’s beefy bod in The Last Jedi. It’s mind-blowing that it costs me nothing to open up KakaoTalk and call my father in Korea.
But the flip side is that it’s now almost impossible to psychologically log off. In the past 48 hours, I’ve received over 400 notifications from apps, social media, texts, chats, calls, emails, Slacks, and reminders. Everything from a childhood friend following me on Instagram to my robot vacuum alerting me it’s stuck on some wires again. Once, I woke up in the middle of the night because If This Then That (IFTTT) decided to blow up my phone with 78 notifications—it really wanted to let me know it had backed up all my photos and the tracks on my Discover Weekly Spotify playlist.
Granted, I can turn these alerts off. Or customize them so I only get certain ones. Trust me, I already do this. Unfortunately, it’s also an important part of my job testing wearables and smart home devices to see how well an app’s push notifications work or how quickly a smartwatch can receive texts. So that means everything buzzes at least twice: once on my phone, and again on however many wearables I’m testing.
It’s an anxiety-inducing nightmare designed to make sure I never focus on anything ever again. I’ll be sitting at my desk, or in a movie theater, and inevitably feel a cascade of vibrations all over my body. It starts with the phone in my pocket and travels to my wrists and up my arms. Some days, I feel buzzes where there are none.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, it would be totally fine if I just let my phone and wearables buzz off, figuratively and literally. The alerts are probably an app I haven’t used in a while, reminding me like an ex-lover that it still exists, and that maybe I should come back (Nope). Or text messages from friends and family chock full of GIFs, memes, and existential angst about why that cute guy or girl just won’t text back.
But there’s also that 1 percent chance it’s actually important. Like when my cousin rang me to tell me my grandpa had died or a time-sensitive work Slack. The point is, you never actually know so you become addicted to making sure it’s nothing essential.
You’d be surprised how much time you lose reaching for your phone every time it buzzes. Back when my only window to the outside world was the ancient crackle of a 56K dial-up, it was easy to focus on non-internet-related activities. Limited connectivity was comforting. I never wondered whether Clarendon or Mayfair was the appropriate Instagram filter for my mediocre meal. I never had to see evidence of what my friends were doing, possibly without me. If I had a crush, I never had to give myself pep talks in the mirror to avoid stalking their every single waking decision on social media like a mildly unhinged psychopath. It only takes one buzz to break your flow. One notification to flush you down the internet rabbit hole.
Once your friends and family know you’re always on, meanwhile, good luck shaking them. Suddenly, it’s the middle of the night, and you’re consoling your elderly father that no, you are not gaining weight, and that yes, the time difference between NYC and South Korea means 30-minute calls at 3 a.m. are not advisable on weekdays.
It’s enough to make me want to take a page from Maxine Waters and reclaim my time. My very untenable solution, however, is to periodically ghost for days at a time. I’ll throw all my wearables into a drawer and bury my phone somewhere where I can’t hear that haunting buzz.
That first hour is how I know I’m an addict with a serious problem. I keep wondering if I’ve missed something important—spoiler, I haven’t. But after a while, it’s liberating, like remembering how to breathe. The truth is, all those memes and texts will be there when I get back.
And I will always (always) come back.
I, Smartphone Addict
Two weeks ago, I was watching a late-night showing of I, Tonya at the Angelika Film Center in Soho. Three-quarters of the way through, a crazy person decided it’d be a great idea to barge into my theater brandishing a guitar case. Somebody shouted “GUN!” and a stampede ensued.
Aside from my life, the thing I cared most about saving was my stupid iPhone. As I scrambled through the aisle—heart pounding and certain that I was going to die from a bullet in the back—I knew my phone was my one lifeline. If I lived, I’d need it to find my friends and let my family know I was alright. If I had my phone, I could use it to call a Lyft and make it home.
In the crush, I lost my jacket, bag, and shoes, but not my phone—until a panicked movie-goer knocked me to the ground. The moment is a blur, but I do remember the split second where I realized I wouldn’t be able to hold onto my phone. I let it go and mentally filed away where I dropped it so that, should I survive, I could find it. That’s insane.
It’s not lost on me that only when I dropped my phone was I able to pick myself up off the floor and run to safety. I bolted out of that theater and ran barefoot down two blocks into a freezing December night. I only stopped running because I realized my friends wouldn’t be able to find me. Without a phone, there was no way for me to get a ride or let anyone know I was alright.
It turned out there was no real threat that night. Just a crazy person waving around a guitar case like an old-school mafioso. Once I knew that, priority No. 1 was finding my phone. Not just so I could get home and find my friends, but because my entire life was on there. My bank information. My work and personal emails. The contact information of my friends and family. My horrible emo poetry. Anyone who had it could potentially access everything there is to know about me. I don’t think I truly relaxed until I had it safe in my hands again.
I don’t know what that says about me, or you, or about society as a whole. All I know is that I’m trapped on this exhausting roller coaster of needing—but hating—my smartphone, and I don’t know how to get off.