[as yet untitled]
A blog type thing
In 2017 Austrian designer Klemens Schillinger attempted to pioneer what some were calling “nicotine gum for smartphone addicts.” His invention? A brick of plastic. I may sound like I’m mocking the thing, but there is an element of genius to it, especially because it was designed to mimic the shape and feel of having a smartphone in your hand, and even outfitted with ball bearings strategically placed to allow users (holders? What would the right word be here?) to convincingly mimic the motions of compulsive swiping and scrolling.
I wish I could say I knew about this before doing a little bit of research for this piece and claim that invention is what inspired this whole post, but I can only really say that I was just Googling an idea I’d had about why I can’t stop scrolling through the same fives apps every three seconds or play the same five YouTube videos on loop to sate my newfound compulsive need to have a human voice or some sort of background noise playing when I do anything. You know, the mark of a true scientist. Decide on an answer and then retroactively devise questions that make it look like you knew what you were doing the whole time. #unscientificmethod
Anyway, the point is: My smartphone addiction is just a “fidget” behavior. That is to say: My brain isn’t the entirety of the problem here. My hands are, too.
I’ve known I have a smartphone problem for a long, long time. But I was never fully conscious of it until one of the moderators at the accountability group I semi-regularly attend at Noisy Nest (I swear Noisy Nest is not paying me to say this, but seriously, check them out if you need some help with goal setting and sticking to said goals; they’re fantastic) asked everyone in the group to do an exercise: Sit for ten minutes without inducing any sort of external stimuli.
I couldn’t do it. I absolutely could. Not. Do it.
I’ve known for at least a little while meditation in the traditional sense isn’t really for me, at least not now; my brain is just too damn noisy and impatient for it, so I’ve had to develop different practices that I find meditative even though they aren’t really thought of, and really probably aren’t active meditation. For me, this involves keeping my hands occupied, and my high school days spent performing close-up magic badly for my peers in lieu of just trying to strike up a conversation with “Hey how’s it going?” or something similarly perfectly normal and fine immediately drew me to the idea of shuffling a deck of cards.
And it works; it seems to calm my brain down because I’m too focused on what’s in my hands and the task of refining a particular shuffle or flourish or sleight is involved enough that my focus becomes pretty singular and I can shut out the noise. Which is kind of the goal of meditation, right?
Anyway, really, earnestly attempting it one more time forced me to connect new dots. When I was just sitting with myself for a bit, it wasn’t just my brain that ached for activity. It was my hands, too. I felt like I needed to have something phone-shaped and responsive to my hands in my hands.
And so I realized: I could trick my brain into thinking it was getting what it wanted by giving it something kind of like what it wanted inasmuch as it was constantly keeping my hands and, to and extent, my brain, occupied. But it did so in a nicer, quieter way that was eventually satisfying.
And it makes sense. Addicts frequently discuss the value of replacing a destructive compulsion with a healthier one. Maybe there’s something to be said for the idea of finding our personal smartphone nicotine patches. It doesn’t have to be cards. Though it certainly can be; if that works for you, do it! But it could be something as simple as rolling a coin in your hands, or an actual fidget spinner. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything that imparts a new skill, but that said, I can attest to the value of that aspect of my personal smartphone patch. It requires just enough mental effort to fool my brain all the more into thinking its getting what it wants.
Remember, our brains, smart as they are, are also really dumb. I wrote a whole post about that. They’re as easily tricked as they are prone to problematic habits. Which means there are ways around said habits that involve some simple trickery.
I remember when I was really little and I saw my dad shaving his face, I thought it was the absolute coolest thing in the world for some reason. I think it was mostly the idea that I got to play with the shaving cream because I was four so of course making a mess was my top priority. But I also, in my tiny, four-year-old brain, was able to understand that the razor was an essential part of the process, though I had no idea why.
So of course, I begged my dad for one. His solution? Take the blade off and give me the handle to play with. And I was content. I was convinced I was getting what I wanted.
That’s about how smart our brains are. They’re loud, they’re powerful, they’re stubborn, and they’re doggedly determined to sate their cravings even if those cravings kill them. But they can be tricked. Mine can be fooled by something as simple as placing a deck of cards on top of my smartphone, thereby exploiting both its stupidity and its love of the path of least resistance because why go to the trouble getting the thing underneath when it could just grab the thing on top with half the effort?
Why indeed, my stupid subconscious canine lizard brain friend. Why indeed.
Don’t worry about it. Conscious Brain’s got this.
You just go play with your “smartphone.”