Screen Quarantine: My Cell Phone Is Trying to Kill Me!

Photo by Victor He,

Your phone has more germs on it than a toilet seat. At least that’s what my brother tells me and he pretty much knows everything. But lately, I’ve had the urge to throw my handheld device right into the John and finish the job.

You’re right, flushing it is rather extreme, and—even though my smartphone has killed most of my short-term memory cells by now—hiding it from myself is also an impractical tactic. Who are we kidding, I’d still know where it was. I always know exactly where my phone is. It’s a sickening realization: my phone is my constant companion, my pet, my lover, and lately my voodoo doll. The curses are all on me.

Once my eyes start looking at the screen, my hunger for stimulation becomes insatiable. Are there new CV-19 cases in my county? Did someone tag me on social media and do I look ugly or ok? Did someone send me a video of pets playing dominos? How many coronavirus fatalities in the world as of today?

These times are ripe with hardship and drama. I get addicted to it. I Facebook deeper into fear. I feed on finding the right facts. I keep hoping for hope. And five minutes of intended screen time easily becomes two hours. I’ve never wanted a landline so badly.

I’d alternate Mr. iPhone with a bigger screen if I could, but my home computer is a dinosaur. Once used for streaming movies, writing plays, and creating elaborate spreadsheets for home workouts I wouldn’t stick with, my deceptively sleek-looking giant Mac can’t even handle basic tasks anymore. I’d hire a guy to do CPR on it, but I don’t want some random dude in my apartment right now. His kids are probably the ones swapping germs on the local playground equipment. No. My home must remain my sanctuary of clean.

Sadly, and I’m sure you can relate, my tiny iPhone screen has now become the absolute epicenter of my social life. My family connection. My news. My distraction. My gaming. My timekeeping. My calendar. My comedy. My culinary education. Even my bedtime spoken-word “lullabies” by Thich Nhat Hanh. But my eyesight is getting blearier by the minute and I’m starting to hear brain-sizzle. At some point, enough is enough. There must be rules.

I’ve struck a deal with my little zombie maker. Because I still depend on it to get me through hard times, but because it also gets manhandled more often than anything else in my possession (I am currently catless), my phone is officially grounded.

Before I leave for my (secluded) morning job at the office, I give my phone a gentle sponge bath with rose-scented soap, and then leave it, charging, on my daily-freshened pillowcase. I tell it to behave. And that I’ll be home for lunch.

We both need that break.

I no longer take it with me to the grocery store. I don’t bring it with me when I get takeout; I order ahead and leave the screen behind. It doesn’t come with me to the garden. Or ride with me to the city compost pile. Or get pocketed on the walking trail. (Ok fine, I brought it one time to Chautauqua Park, but only so I could record a bunch of Kermit the Frogs singing on the creek bank.) I’m trying so hard to fill my days with real, not virtual sustenance. And retrain my eyes to look into the distance.

It is good.

At home this past week, I’m proud to report I’ve successfully shifted a huge portion of my addiction to working puzzles. The thirty hours I spent reconstructing 2D batik Easter eggs, though still challenging on my eyes, felt so much better on my brain. Logic, order, and mad Where’s Waldo skills were put to use on my kraslice masterpiece. Kraslice means “beauty,” and I soaked it up with hot tea and sunlight streaming in.

A Czech kraslice puzzle, just in time for Easter. It’s only missing one piece, but that’s not bothering me at all.

And for the first time in three weeks, the pull to get back home had very little to do with escaping into sanitized safety. Or checking my screen for incoming news—good or bad. All I wanted to do was pour over my Czech puzzle.

Ditching the cell, or never picking one up in the first place, may be old hat for some of you. (Hi Uncle Dean.) Kudos. But can I point out there’s a good chance the rest of you are reading this on your phone? I do thank you.

Set a timer now, and in ten minutes go do something else.

Meredith Siemsen

Meredith, an Iowa native, was baffled when she earned her high school's writing award in 1993. It wasn't until twenty years later that she discovered she actually enjoyed wordcraft. (Too bad she's still a two-fingered typist.) Thanks for reading, friends!