Breaking up (with my smartphone) is hard to do
Im following a 30-day plan to wean me off it. I leave it in another room and, like an 18th-century gentleman, reply to messages only once a day
There is something wrong with my phone, and it is not just that the predictive text feature thinks Im obsessed with ducks. The real problem is that my phone is the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing I look at at night. I come running when it makes a ding noise. I think in tweets and look at meals and people and imagine them cropped into squares on Instagram. There is something mentally totalitarian about it.
Smartphones are designed to addict us nagging us with notifications, disrupting us with noise, making themselves indispensable. Social media apps harness neuroscience to the same end, triggering dopamine hits that lock us into them for hours. A terrifying new book, How to Break Up With Your Phone, says we are rewiring our brains so they are less organised for deep thought; killing our attention span, destroying our memory, sleep and happiness. Phones have changed the world, too; advertisers use them to hoover up our attention. We are no longer just consumers, but product. As Ramsay Brown, co-founder of app-designers Dopamine Labs, has said: You get to use [Facebook] for free, because your eyeballs are whats being sold there.
The book aims to help us put our phones away. It is a 30-day plan starting with baby steps, such as buying an alarm clock, then progressing to auto-text responses, changing the screen to greyscale, and then help! an invitation to mindfulness. Due to my diminished attention span and craving for sensation, Id prefer a single step, such as throw your phone at a closed window or put it in the microwave as long as I could film it on my phone. I have tried some of the changes. I keep my phone in another room while working. I dont cycle through a sequence of apps when I do pick it up, forgetting why Im doing so. I now reply to messages once a day, like an 18th-century gentleman catching up on correspondence at his desk of a morning except I do it in the bath, eating Maltesers, at night. The difference is huge. Im reading more, Im more able to string a sentence hey, whats that film where Keanu Reeves plays a Qubcois goalie?
Im also bored. Reducing my smartphone use underlines what was great about it in the first place. The ability to wormhole away from the static walls of my home and work. To connect to anyone. There is no way the people I drink with on Friday can compare to anyone. And its not as if mental peace awaits as soon as I set down the glowing Distract-Oblong. Its impossible to reclaim the thoughts I want without including the ones I dont anxious, intrusive thoughts that are always waiting. Breaking up with my phone means accepting the tortuous, paradoxical timeline of lived experience: how a day can drag on for a year, and 10 years can vanish overnight.
But Im doing it anyway. Putting down a smartphone is no less revolutionary than picking it up was. The best thing breaking up with my phone has given me is time. Time in which to be understimulated, or anxious. Time to stop being pulled in a hundred directions, envying the lives of others, and giving away my eyeballs for free.
Actors become politicians, so why not put MPs in musicals
Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon has edged closer to announcing an official run for governor of New York. She would probably be quite good, having previously campaigned over gay rights and for more money for publicly funded schools. But it is not a great sign that so many of us assume that its easy to traverse the worlds of politics and acting. One of these careers involves professional pretending and an ability to commit to pure fantasy. The other is acting. Lets not be cynical, guys.
With so many TV personalities eyeing up the political pasture, it is the suits I feels sorry for. They have to do something with themselves, too, once the time for that carriage clock rolls around.
The obvious response is for our retired politicians to pick up the gauntlet, and take on the plum roles of stage and screen. Wouldnt you binge-watch Ed Miliband in A Series of Unfortunate Events, or Nick Clegg in the next season of The Walking Dead?
Crowd-pleasing musicals could take on a subversive frisson with the new approach. Neil Hamilton in Hamilton is a shoo-in; but would other ex-Tory politicians be thick-skinned enough to take on Fiddler On the Roof, Wicked or Kinky Boots?
We continue to hurtle toward a future in which affairs of state are an indistinguishable variant of media, designed to entertain. But maybe that isnt all bad. Would a national referendum decided from a cinema seat during a screening of Star Wars be more uninformed and beside the point than the last one? It would keep the numbers up. And the casting would be quite a lot more diverse.
Furry animal robots get NHS seal of approval
News that robotic seals could be rolled out across NHS dementia wards sounds like a nightmare world. But its a nice thing the cybernetic seal pups respond to talking and touch and encourage social behaviour in those with declining cognitive function. Researchers in the UK have been testing Paro for a while, but we are still behind Japan, where Paro has been comforting people since 2004. By now, they probably have horse-sized cats to walk their dogs and unicorn doulas. Why do we always get everything late? Im going to speak to my MP the Marvellous Pelican who is also my therapist.