12 Things to Do Instead of Picking Up Your Phone

This is the year to de-center your smartphone

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg·6 min read

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Illustrations from “Goodbye Phone, Hello World” by Emiliano Ponzi

For the sake of yourself and your country, it is time to get off your phone.

Yes, I know you needed to see the latest from the Capitol storming, the impeachment hearings, the Republican backlash, and then you’ll need to know how it’s all going down with the new administration in the first 100 days, and then perhaps you’ll want to check in on the stalled Covid-19 vaccination effort. And then poof, before you know it, midterm elections will be ramping up and you’ll need to scroll and scroll and scroll.

But there’s a good reason to balance a civic duty to stay informed with a personal responsibility to protect yourself. According to the online survey company Chartbeat, Americans burned 173 million hours reading about Trump (and other stuff) on their phones over the last four years — more than twice as much time as they spent reading about him on their laptops or desktops. Those same 173 million hours would have been enough time to clean all of our beaches of plastic debris, or tackle any of our myriad personal goals.

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Source: ChartBeat

But what’s really significant about all the doomscrolling time is how it has affected our minds. Phone-based news reading tends to be done in spurts, with scant attention paid to nuance or substantiation of argument. It is, in short, the perfect cave for Trumpian thoughts and conspiracy theories to dwell. We need to move our attention away from Twitter and TikTok and focus instead on fact-checked and fact-based arguments.An Easy 3-Step System for Reclaiming Your Time from the News CycleRaise your hand if you’ve come up for air after a doomscrolling session only to discover that you forked over an hour…forge.medium.com

How to do this? As I write in my book Goodbye Phone, Hello World, changing your relationship to your phone requires a change in your relationship with your daily life. De-centering your phone won’t cause you to lose money, friendships, “connectedness,” or opportunity. Rather it will be an opportunity for you to take your life back from Big Tech’s agenda and start making rational, sound plans with you in control of your time.

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Here are 12 steps you can take right now to begin the process:

Get an alarm clock

The moments between sleeping and waking are the times when we are most in touch with our subconscious, and thus precious for creativity. Protect those tender morning minutes. Have an alarm clock wake you up, so that first thing you are focused on something other than your phone.

Engage with your dreams

Dreams are your window into what Carl Jung called “the night-sea journey,” the pathway to the inner workings of your being. Start a dream journal that you keep next to your bed. Record your dreams in words and images every morning the moment you wake before they dissipate in the morning light.

Choose something other than your phone as a morning practice

In the ancient Sanskrit sacred text The Bhagavad Gita, the God Krishna, incarnated as a charioteer, instructs the young warrior Arjuna on how to live a fulfilling life. He tells Arjuna that the divided mind is an unhappy mind but that “[w]hen a person is devoted to something with complete faith, I unify his faith in that form.” Mastery through practice is faith. By replacing some of your device-divided time with unified time, you begin to lay down your own path.

Take a month to experiment with different practices that could be sustained over time. Is it the piano you once played? The watercolors you’ve always wanted to paint? Try taking 15 minutes of what was your smartphone time and dedicating it to that practice. Evaluate your feelings after each short session. At the end of a month, choose the practice you want to follow and pursue it consistently throughout the next month, increasing the time you spend on that practice by one-minute increments each day as time allows.

Do your morning reading from a physical magazine with in-depth, fact-checked reporting

Reading on paper can be good for you. A 2016 study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that individuals who read on paper increased their life-span by an average of 23 months. Spend some time reading serious journalism — or a favorite book.

Make at least one meal a day tech-free

Research has shown that even the presence of an inert phone on the table serves to make conversations shallower.

Have an unedited conversation

Many people say they text or email rather than talk because they have come to fear the spontaneity of actual conversation. They fear an awkward silence. But “[i]t is often in the moments when we stumble and hesitate and fall silent that we reveal ourselves to each other,” Sherry Turkle writes in her book Reclaiming Conversation. Choose to be revealed.

Use your phone with intention

Before texting, posting, or making any other public statement, remember Gandhi’s helpful saying: “Speak only if it improves upon silence.”

Call a friend you’re about text

Use texting just for logistical purposes, saving emotional information for more direct communication.

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Focus on real friends

The social media use of the word friend is an appropriation that downplays the critical roles actual friends play in our lives. Most psychologists agree that humans can only effectively maintain a relatively small number of truly intimate friendships — usually around 15. By this standard, having 1,000 “friends” is absurd. Take a long, hard look at your list of digital friends and cull the list to those with whom you have meaningful communication.

Curate curation

One of the things that distorts our exercise regimen and attitudes toward our own bodies is an obsessive curating of self-image. Editing images of yourself and posting them online creates unrealizable expectations, especially for young adults.

Limit your self-curation both for your own sake and for the sake of the younger people in your life who are particularly susceptible. Try to go for a given period of time without editing photos of yourself or your loved ones. Examine how you feel after this “self-curation” diet.

Stick with your plans

Smartphones make it easy to waffle; you can always text an apology when you’re running late or bailing on plans entirely. Try to honor your commitments to your intimates. Make a plan and stick to it. Be respectful of the agreed upon time you and your loved one have set aside to be together. Keeping commitments with your intimates is another bedrock of trustworthy relationships.

Protect the night

You’ll get a better night’s sleep if you avoid looking at screens beginning two hours before bed. In your last moments before sleep, write in a journal, meditate, read some lines of poetry, or have an exchange with your partner: a look in the eye, some words. Close your eyes with the expectation of exploring the wealth of your own mind in the morning.

Remember, breaking a phone addiction isn’t easy. Be gentle with yourself. Understand that when you stare into your phone 10,000 programmers’ eyes are staring back at you, monitoring your move, adapting the on-screen environment so that you’ll keep looking and scrolling. Let’s make 2021 the year when we stopped doing that mindlessly.

Let’s take back control of our country, our time, and our minds.

HOW A ROMANTIC POET INSPIRED GANDHI AND MARTIN LUTHER KING

by Tamara Mitrofanova

How a simple poem influenced famous freedom fighters like Gandhi to adapt peaceful protests and non-violent resistance.

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Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Public Domain.


Percy Shelley, a famous poet from the Romantic Era, was the first to advocate for peaceful protests and he inspired Gandhi to adopt non-violent resistance. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. They had all followed Shelley’s philosophy and it helped create a new world.


When Gandhi read Shelley’s poem, “The Masque of Anarchy” (poem below) he was instantly captivated by its message for freedom through peace. It is known that Gandhi would often quote various passages from the poem to vast audiences during the campaign for India’s independence.

“Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.

And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there;
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
What they like, that let them do.

With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage has died away:

Then they will return with shame,
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!”


Percy Shelley wrote this poem after hearing of the tragic event known as the Massacre of Peterloo. More than a hundred working men, women and children were seriously injured when they staged a public meeting to determine how to achieve reform through “the most legal and effectual means.”


Like many others, Percy Shelley was furious over this naked governmental oppression and seized the opportunity to write what is now considered, “the greatest poem of political protest ever written in English.”


Sadly, during his lifetime his poem was considered too radical and never published until 1832, years after he died.


In 2020, this poem is still very relatable to modern events. We have seen many people throughout the world rising up in protest.


The BLM protests in response to police brutality, the Beirut explosion followed by mass protests against corruption and protests in Belarus against government oppression. The quote “Ye are many — they are few!” in the Masque of Anarchy resonates even today.


Percy Shelley’s poem had even influenced the Egyptian revolution 2011, with protestors chanting the lines, “Rise, like lions after slumber, In unvanquishable number!”


Percy Shelley is the most underrated intellectual who envisioned way ahead into the future and foresaw pacifism as the greatest weapon against despotism and injustice.


As a self-proclaimed Atheist and an advocate for freedom, he did not fit in strict and religious 18th century England. Percy Shelley was expelled from Oxford for atheism, broke ties with his rule-abiding father and eloped with two women, one being Mary Godwin Shelley, author of Frankenstein.


Discriminated against and hunted for being a political radical, he died tragically at age 29. Despite the difficulty he experienced, he never gave up hope for a better future. Percy Shelley walked around Italy wearing a ring with the good time will come inscribed on the inner surface.


Indeed good times did come and it was his poem that inspired others to take up the scepter in creating a better world.

2020 HIGHLIGHTS

TERRORISTS STAMPEDE THE CAPITAL OF THE USA

2020 was a depressing, miserable, grim year. But not just because of the pandemic. Rather, because the pandemic was a kind of eraser. It rubbed away all the artifice and gloss and politesse we play games with. And revealed the truth of us. Of our societies. It was a profoundly ugly truth.

Today was the day that armed fascists stormed the US Capitol, broke the doors and windows, entered the house chamber, where there was an armed standoff. All that, by the way, was abetted and incited by the President and his key political allies. Is that a sentence or two you thought you’d ever read? ~ umair haque

The world has long suspected that American are, well, idiots. Backwards, brutal, violent, greedy, selfish. More inclined to shoot a gun than read a book. Only interested in money, sex, fame, and power. Now, the world would say that, and once in a while, someone like me would object, and say, “No, Americans are just misunderstood. They’ve been abused by their society, you see.” Maybe that’s true, but…does it matter? Just because you’ve been abused doesn’t give absolve you from being an abuser yourself.

Because the year 2020 was so depressing, grim, and relentless wasn’t just the natural calamity. It was that calamity revealed the truth about us. And that truth was ugly. We are stupid, violent, brutal, indifferent, careless. Enough of us, anyways, to make our societies that way, period. We added catastrophe to calamity. After we clapped, we soon enough stopped caring at all. “Hey! I need to go to the bar! My kid has to go to school! I need to go shopping!!” Good little consumers and producers, to the bitter, shocking end. But where did the human beings in us go, then?

The senators who voted to object to some of the results of the election (and the states they objected to):

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (Arizona, Pennsylvania)
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (Arizona, Pennsylvania)
Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall (Arizona, Pennsylvania)
Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville (Arizona, Pennsylvania)
Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (Arizona, Pennsylvania)
Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy (Arizona)
Florida Sen. Rick Scott (Pennsylvania)
Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis (Pennsylvania)

And if you are a sane, thoughtful, decent person — well, how do you live in such a place? A dehumanized, violent, brutal, idiotic one? How do you live in a society of sociopaths? Isn’t it an oxymoron to begin with? Where do you go from there? How do you coexist with the kind of remorseless idiots who don’t care about causing death on the scale of a World War? How do you not shudder in contempt and disgrace every time you see them — which is all the time? But where does that leave you?

That, my friends, is the question for 2021.

20 THINGS MOST PEOPLE LEARN TOO LATE IN LIFE – guest post

by Nicolas Cole
Oct 16, 2020 · 5 min read


Life is a journey of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, mountains to climb and oceans to explore.


Good times and bad times. Happy times and sad times.


But always, life is a movement forward.


No matter where you are on the journey, in some way, you are continuing on — and that’s what makes it so magnificent. One day, you’re questioning what on earth will ever make you feel happy and fulfilled. And the next, you’re perfectly in flow, writing the most important book of your entire career.


What nobody ever tells you, though, when you are a wide-eyed child, are all the little things that come along with “growing up.”

  1. Most people are scared of using their imagination.
    They’ve disconnected with their inner child.
    They don’t feel they are “creative.”
    They like things “just the way they are.”
  2. Your dream doesn’t really matter to anyone else.
    Some people might take interest. Some may support you in your quest. But at the end of the day, nobody cares, or will ever care about your dream as much as you.
  3. Friends are relative to where you are in your life.
    Most friends only stay for a period of time — usually in reference to your current interest. But when you move on, or your priorities change, so too do the majority of your friends.
  4. Your potential increases with age.
    As people get older, they tend to think that they can do less and less — when in reality, they should be able to do more and more, because they have had time to soak up more knowledge. Being great at something is a daily habit. You aren’t just “born” that way.
  5. Spontaneity is the sister of creativity.
    If all you do is follow the exact same routine every day, you will never leave yourself open to moments of sudden discovery. Do you remember how spontaneous you were as a child? Anything could happen, at any moment!
  6. You forget the value of “touch” later on.
    When was the last time you played in the rain?
    When was the last time you sat on a sidewalk and looked closely at the cracks, the rocks, the dirt, the one weed growing between the concrete and the grass nearby.
    Do that again.
    You will feel so connected to the playfulness of life.
  7. Most people don’t do what they love.
    It’s true.
    The “masses” are not the ones who live the lives they dreamed of living. And the reason is because they didn’t fight hard enough. They didn’t make it happen for themselves. And the older you get, and the more you look around, the easier it becomes to believe that you’ll end up the same.
    Don’t fall for the trap.
  8. Many stop reading after college.
    Ask anyone you know the last good book they read, and I’ll bet most of them respond with, “Wow, I haven’t read a book in a long time.”
  9. People talk more than they listen.
    There is nothing more ridiculous to me than hearing two people talk “at” each other, neither one listening, but waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can start up again.
  10. Creativity takes practice.
    It’s funny how much we as a society praise and value creativity, and yet seem to do as much as we can to prohibit and control creative expression unless it is in some way profitable.
    If you want to keep your creative muscle pumped and active, you have to practice it on your own.
  11. “Success” is a relative term.
    As kids, we’re taught to “reach for success.”
    What does that really mean? Success to one person could mean the opposite for someone else.
    Define your own Success.
  12. You can’t change your parents.
    A sad and difficult truth to face as you get older: You can’t change your parents.
    They are who they are.
    Whether they approve of what you do or not, at some point, no longer matters. Love them for bringing you into this world and leave the rest at the door.
  13. The only person you have to face in the morning is yourself.
    When you’re younger, it feels like you have to please the entire world.
    You don’t.
    Do what makes you happy and create the life you want to live for yourself. You’ll see someone you truly love staring back at you every morning if you can do that.
  14. Nothing feels as good as something you do from the heart.
    No amount of money or achievement or external validation will ever take the place of what you do out of pure love.
    Follow your heart, and the rest will follow.
  15. Your potential is directly correlated to how well you know yourself.
    Those who know themselves and maximize their strengths are the ones who go where they want to go.
    Those who don’t know themselves, and avoid the hard work of looking inward, live life by default. They lack the ability to create for themselves their own future.
  16. Everyone who doubts you will always come back around.
    That kid who used to bully you will come asking for a job.
    The girl who didn’t want to date you will call you back once she sees where you’re headed. It always happens that way.
    Just focus on you, stay true to what you believe in, and all the doubters will eventually come asking for help.
  17. You are a reflection of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
    Nobody creates themselves, by themselves.
    We are all mirror images, sculpted through the reflections we see in other people. This isn’t a game you play by yourself. Work to be surrounded by those you wish to be like, and in time, you too will carry the very things you admire in them.
  18. Beliefs are relative to what you pursue.
    Wherever you are in life, and based on who is around you, and based on your current aspirations, those are the things that shape your beliefs.
    Nobody explains, though, that “beliefs” then are not “fixed.” There is no “right and wrong.” It is all relative.
    Find what works for you.
  19. Anything can be a vice.
    Be wary.
    Again, there is no “right” and “wrong” as you get older. A coping mechanism to one could be a way to relax on a Sunday to another. Just remain aware of your habits and how you spend your time, and what habits start to increase in frequency — and then question where they are coming from in you and why you feel compelled to repeat them.
    Never mistakes, always lessons.
    As I said, know yourself.
  20. YOUR PURPOSE IS TO BE YOU.
    What is the meaning of life?
    To be you, all of you, always, in everything you do — whatever that means to you. You are your own creator. You are your own evolving masterpiece. Growing up is the realization that you are both the sculpture and the sculptor, the painter and the portrait. Paint yourself however you wish.

CHEWING SURPRISE

Tasting the hard, thick, brown square of dark chocolate Grampie finally agreed to share with me after succumbing to ten tortuous minutes of my innocent childlike begging, my mouth explodes. My eyeballs seem pushed back into my now-aching head and I wonder where the loud buzzing sound is coming from. Not sure who is doing all the screaming. Ohhhhh noooooo, it’s coming from me!

I begin intermittently spitting into the dusty gravel driveway and yelling and spitting and yelling and spitting and yelling something indistinguishable. My legs begin to go wobbly and my arms are flailing as if I were going to take flight. I WANT to fly away! Faaaaarrrrr away from my hero, my Grampie who is now doubled over, laughing hysterically in his deep, gravelly voice until tears roll off his rosy cheeks and his shiny bald head is as red as a boiled lobster.

The spitting and yelling continues until he can once again stand upright and pulls me to his chest with a big bear hug. Grammie, in her full-length, crisply ironed cotton apron emerges from deep within the house, most probably the kitchen, with a Tom and Jerry jelly glass of cold, red ZA-REX. She had been carefully watching out the tall kitchen window as we walked thru the yard on our weekly trek to inspect the “blueberry fields” and had witnessed the entire interaction. She anticipated this very outcome as she watched my begging her playful husband and saw that he had finally handed me a chunk of his “brownie”.

That moment was the first time I became aware of Grampie’s lifetime love of chewing tobacco! He surely did covet chewing chunks of that nasty smelling stuff! Wherever he went, a fresh double-brownie sized chunk, newly wrapped in cellophane, and tucked into the breast pocket of his plaid flannel shirt. It truly seemed his special friend at times. He reached into that secret hiding place for refreshment, out of boredom, for consolation and for comfort. It seemed that chewing centered and calmed him all at the same time, just as a baby doll or soft blanket does when we are small.

It is not much of a stretch to imagine how I thought this enticing brown substance to be a luscious brownie. I was salivating for a chocolaty treat as I marched proudly alongside the strong, wise Grampie I adored.

None of the three of us ever forgot that awakening, my first exposure to the cognizance of chocolate versus tobacco. The recounting of that day continued for years, being told and retold from family holiday dinner tables to random visitors after I was long tucked away in bed.

He did so love to chaw. He chewed while walking outside first thing in the fresh air of morning. He chawed a chunk after eating a hearty lunch. He chawed vigorously while driving the car and much to my embarrassment, spit the “juice” out of the driver side window. Sometimes when we took an off-island adventure, and if the car window was only partially down, the juicy drool left drips that ran down the clean window glass like muddy stripes. If he chose to spit while the car was in motion, I would wait until the stripes curled at the bottom, looking to my innocent little girl mind like upside down chocolate candy canes.

When I was in my 40’s and Grampie was nearing the end of his life, he lay pale and struggling for breath and dignity from a hospital bed. Unable to speak much above a whisper, he crooked his finger to draw me closer to his face and asked me to go into his closet to reach into his worn flannel shirt pocket for something for him. I was not surprised to feel the “chunk of chaw” he was asking me to sneak to him.

As I crossed the room, I was overwhelmed by memories of his love affair with chewing. Those memories however had far less an impact than the look of sheet delight I saw in his twinkling eyes as I handed him the treasure he had so longed for during his lengthy stay at the hospital. His tired, worn, scraggly face seemed to glow and his age faded away at that moment.

He grabbed onto the chunk of chewing tobacco and clutched it to his chest under the crisp white hospital sheets for the remainder of our visit. He thanked me with a whisper in my ear as I hugged him for what we both knew would probably be the last time. I remembered the first time he shared his brownie with me.

At Grampie’s funeral, we all passed his casket slowly, some lingering to pay a tribute in their own special way. I tucked my favorite pinky ring (a simple love knot) into the breast pocket of the shirt where he always kept his beloved chewing tobacco. As I sat on the hard wooden bench facing his casket, I watched as my younger sister tucked a fresh package of chewing tobacco into the very same breast pocket, her special gift for his next journey.