My long relationship with the cellphone began in 1993, at my first job in the newspaper business.
The device was a Motorola MicroTAC, if memory serves me correctly. Rudimentary compared to today’s “smart phones,” the thing was about the weight and size of a fully loaded hoagie sandwich. It took no pictures. It sent no texts. It had no apps. Hell, it barely completed a telephone call without first dropping the call five or six times.
But still, I remember well what I told my friends and colleagues. “This is great. Now I’ll never miss an important phone call.”
A quarter century later, I am still awaiting my first stern command from the White House operator: “Please hold for the President of the United States.”
Apparently, no world leaders have me on speed dial.
I’m not sure exactly when, but sometime in the past few years I began to hate my cellphone with the sort of intense loathing most people reserve for life’s true abominations: Income taxes; pineapple on pizza; Phoenix Suns’ owner Robert Sarver; and putzes who take up two parking spaces.
My resentment hit its apex last month. Determined to better understand my cellphone addiction, I began to use an app called Moment, which tracks how often and how long you use your phone.
The numbers blew me away. After monitoring my phone use for a couple weeks, I discovered that on an average day I picked up the phone 105 times – and spent about three hours a day using the wretched little device.
According to Moment, that constitutes about 22 percent of my waking life.
Throw in time working on a laptop or reading a book on my iPad and it’s no wonder my eyes feel rectangular most afternoons come 3 p.m.
Nor am I special in this regard: According to multiple studies by Nielsen, Comscore and other culture analysts, the average screen time for Americans in 2019 exceeds four hours a day.
While many of those hours are productive – writing for work, calling or texting loved ones, mapping a destination, listening to Spotify while we workout – the discouraging part comes from all the passive staring we do.
In the last 10 days, I’ve logged more than 75 minutes a day on social media. Given how little value we derive from looking at people’s humble brags or pictures of their lunch, that’s an hour-plus daily I feel I want back.
The solution? I’ve removed the biggest time-waster apps from my phone, making them harder to access.
I’ve also taken to leaving the phone in the backseat while I drive, unless I need the map for directions.
I’m also rooting for the Arizona Legislature to finally pass a ban on the use of handheld devices by drivers – a measure set for a House vote on the morning I wrote this column. Currently, 47 states have banned texting while driving. And 16 states have banned all use of handheld devices by anyone operating a vehicle.
Normally, I don’t rely on the government to help discourage my own bad behavior. I’ll make an exception in this case, however, because this addiction feels especially hard to break.
And because like everyone else who’s ever driven on a Valley freeway, I’ve seen more than my share of swerving idiots looking down — not at the road, but at the cellphone between their knees.
Maybe such a ban, coupled with my newfound determination to wean myself from screens, means when that one vital phone call finally comes in, I’ll miss it. I guess that’s okay. I’ve been waiting 26 years for life-changing news that has yet to arrive. What’s a few more minutes?