Opinion

Turn off the notifications on your phone already!

Go ahead. Live a little.

The otherwise highly forgettable spy movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has a very good little moment. The eponymous protagonist, played by Chris Pine, is slowly learning to walk again after injuries sustained as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan. He is in tremendous pain, and popping painkillers. He asks his doctor (Keira Knightley, natch) for another pill. She gives it to him, and says, "I want you to wait two minutes to take this."

"Why?"

"So I know you can."

One of the ways that addiction manifests itself is by unleashing seemingly infinite powers of rationalization. In addition to the physical destruction addition may cause, this is another reason we should all fight addiction: It is ultimately a form of lying, to others and to oneself, and as such it enslaves us.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: Turn off the notifications on your damn phone!

You don't work for the FBI. You're not a heart surgeon. Literally no one is going to die if you wait five freaking minutes to check your text messages and your Twitter replies.

I see you, at bars, at parties, with your family, surreptitiously checking your phone. It's just a few seconds, you rationalize. It's not hurting anyone. But maybe it is.

It's also rude. Yes, never mind that this is 2015 and standards are evolving — it's still rude.

But the sad part is that I know you can't turn off your notifications even if you wanted to.

That's the thing about addiction. You can say all you want, you can think whatever you want, but at the end of the day, you have to pick a winner: you, or the thing you're addicted to. One way in which addiction destroys us from the inside is that it unleashes tremendous powers of rationalization within us. It makes us lie to ourselves, day after day.

The same principle applies to drinking alone. Are you going to lose your soul if you have one drink alone? Perhaps not. But the point is that you can't bring yourself to respect a simple rule like that. Like looking at that painkiller for two minutes, it's a question of whether the thing owns you.

Unless you are part of a very, very small percentage of the human population, none of the stuff that's on your phone is actually important. You are simply the victim of a survival-of-the-fittest contest between gadget and app makers, who have become enormously skilled at making us addicted to their products.

Be a human being, and when you're around other human beings, treat them as human beings.

I'm not asking you to drive a monster truck over your iPhone and retreat to a cabin in Idaho without electricity or phone and live off the grid for the rest of your life. Go ahead, tweet away. Just turn off the notifications on your phone.

I'm writing all this because, of course, I used to be like you. My wife made me turn in the phone at dinner and on weekends. She was tired of looking at me not looking at her night after night. At first I was furious. Then I was jittery. And then I was happy. Because we started talking more, interacting more, being nicer. And it was just the right thing to do to make myself fully available to my family. I thought I didn't have a problem until I realized what a burden had been lifted off my back.

Then a funny thing happened. I had lunch with a friend who works in the tech industry. Of course, he kept his iPhone on the table, and once in a while — not too often, but once in a while — he glanced at it and checked what was up. It was only halfway through dessert (and this was a long French lunch) that I realized that not only had my phone been in my pocket the whole time, but that I'd never even thought about it.

You have no idea the freedom and power this brings. I know you're a slave, like I was.

You have nothing to lose but your chains.

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