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By Christopher Sloce
Jan. 2, 2013, I said I wouldn’t use my phone to ameliorate awkward situations and let everybody know using my Facebook app. As far as timestamps go, I cannot attest whether I made this announcement while my friend’s little brother sat in the room, pestering my friends and me while we drank Vladimir vodka cut with flavored water out of paper cups, or if I did it earlier that morning, lazing around. The poor bastard, I think looking back. He barely knew why he said he would.
What is it about a cellphone? I despise talking on phones and regard the internet with squinted eyes, except, of course, the 20 or so sites I visit countless times a day. Most cellphone games would rather addict than entertain. I can’t really read on a phone: I doodle, bracket, and underline and keep a pen close by my bed. I don’t check stocks.
Then why can’t I put mine down?
That’s the question I asked myself when I tried to put mine down. To avoid avoiding discomfort by seeing if anybody said anything I could give a computerized thumbs up, or to reread the same Wikipedia article. Or to Google search whatever little tidbit flew across my field of vision and needed clarification. As far as I can remember, I did okay until I came back to Richmond after the holidays. It’s easy to avoid awkward situations while you’re at your parent’s house: typically it’s a matter of staying home.
The exact wording of the resolution was “to quit using my cellphone to get out of awkward situations." In other words, suppose I had to sit at a table with people I didn’t know well and found the conversation dull or irritating for some other reason. I had to sit there and face the boredom and frustration head-on, not futz about on whatever fly-by-night app I downloaded the night before. Looking back, I think it was an attempt to be mindful, cognizant of people and the facts that life isn’t a necklace where every bead is a highlight and a lot of it is a long grind. That there will be wasted strands and plots that don’t get resolved and a number of anti-climaxes. I thought using my cellphone was essentially an attempt to make every moment in life count and to always be working towards something, even if it was a high score in a game I’d be sick of the next minute and vow to delete.
And I failed: the parameters of my resolution had no physical end goal. Unlike other failed resolutions (learn to box or play tennis, or read X number of books in a year), how do you measure your attempts to quit doing something with a variable? Social grace doesn’t have a number on it. Either you do it or you don’t. It’s more on a grading scale and points wise, there’s no noticeable difference between a b minus and plus. The other reason I failed wasn’t cute. I expected technology to save me from panicking.
The difficult thing in a state of anxiety is focus and concentration. The first panic attack I had at college was happened when I was supposed to be a radio DJ: I forgot how to program music, freaked out, messaged the station director, then sat on the curb outside for a minute, vexed, heavy breathing and vowing never to do that again. I had a simple phone, no doodads. And the thinking was, distract yourself in any way possible.
One of the reasons the resolution failed, really, is that I thought being aloof and awkward trumped the physical sensation and pain of being seen as those things on accident (if I please, I can play either of those qualities with aplomb). Survival became more important than an off-the-cuff Facebook status.
And if my cellphone use is indicative of my verve to survive, I have to make peace with the fact that survival, to me, is just as much about improvement as it is about scraping by. My cellphone became the equivalent of Ali professing to burn himself with match anytime he had a lustful thought. It was übermenschian: I was giving myself an obstacle and trying to jump over it. Like Solomon in the Apocrypha, I was trying to put demons to work for me. If my hands had to move, at least move in a way I can learn more about the history of one of my 8 million things I tell people off-handedly when they bring them up, “Oh, that’s always fascinated me.”
This is all pretty much negated by the fact I gave a cellphone an inordinate amount of power over me by making it the focal point of a resolution. That, to me, seems to be the problem with resolutions: when you give something the power of needing to be changed, it becomes much harder to change.
This year my resolution is to not make one.