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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

Putting down the damn phone

The Subaru I recently traded in — I didn’t get much for it, but they took it — had a vivid sign of my phone addiction. Well, “addiction” might be strong — I have hardly any apps on the phone, I’ve never tweeted once, and my phone isn’t even linked to the Facebook account I barely ever use. But the old car had a deep scratch across the driver’s-side windows, reminding me of the pre-dawn moment when, driving in a blizzard to the airport for a school-visit trip, at a spot where two lanes narrowed into one and a semi truck was crowding me on the right, I felt it was a good time to check my text messages.

I know. And the corner of the traffic sign that raked all down the side of my then-pristine car ... well, that was a message. And one that I’m trying, finally, to heed.

The addiction aspect, for me, is that the phone urges you to check it all the time. In the checkout line at the supermarket. During dinner with family. While driving, which I’m finally really trying not to do. So I’m drawn to articles about breaking this dependence, about learning to put ... down ... the phone. There was a good one in the New York Times the other day: “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain.”

The writer’s problem was, I feel smugly, far worse than mine. He did much more to break the habit, and had much more to say. For me, this is mainly about discovering that an urge is just an urge. Responding is very often just an empty experience — yet if I do, the urges get stronger. So when I’m driving and the urge to check email rises inside, I’m finding I can let it rise, then watch it fade. And wait to check the damn phone at a rest stop. Or a traffic light. I can do this.

I’m trying. I’m also, I notice, reading a lot more. And my new-to-me Subaru ... well, it carries no ugly reminders. I’m hoping to keep it that way.

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