The Evil Rectangle in our Pockets

One of the biggest inhibitors to my own progress has been that little rectangle that lives in my pocket, hand, or bed about 95% of the time. I have become a phone zombie as a result of not working a fulfilling job, and I use my phone as a distraction from this. Social media apps take up the majority of my screen time. This is no accident. Companies like Meta have meticulously developed their algorithms to keep you on their apps for as long as possible. The more time you spend on the app, the more advertisements Meta can show you, and the more money they can make. This is further exacerbated by the streamlining of purchasing products on the apps, and the culture of internet influencers. Millions of smartphone users are sleepwalking through hours of their day on their phones because they are simply not in tune, or engaged, in their present environment. A study done by the University of Texas at Austin has discovered that merely having a smartphone nearby can diminish our brain’s cognitive ability. 

“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” [Professor Adrian] Ward said. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.” 


For those interested, you can find the full study here:

So why do we use our phones so much? Why are we stuck in this seemingly never ending cycle of: do work, check phone, use phone, do work, repeat?

Like most things in life, the answer is a complicated one. However, I believe that the majority of our phone usage can be attributed to a lack of excitement in our lives. Tim Ferriss, author of, The 4-Hour Workweek, makes an interesting point that I feel is worth sharing. He claims that most people don’t just seek mere happiness in their lives. The word has become too ambiguous and is not a reliable goal to constantly seek. Instead, Ferriss suggests building a lifestyle with excitement in mind. While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that will make us happy, it is much easier to idealize the components of an exciting life for us. Comedian Mark Normand, has a joke about how we hardly use our phones in our dreams. I.e. you never have a dream where you just scroll on instagram Reels for two hours and then wake up.  If you take a second to think of when you use your phone the most, there is a good chance that it coincides with the times you’re the most bored. Boredom is the opposite of excitement, and must be avoided at all costs. 

If you are feeling like you are in a rut, or life has been seeming dull lately, check out your screen time in your phone’s settings. Take the average amount of time you’re spending on your phone, and calculate the amount of time it takes up a year. The results are probably more indicative of how much time you’re bored in the day, rather than how many hours you legitimately want to be on your cell phone. Luckily, there is a practical solution that anyone can follow, and is sure to help mitigate some of the problems phone use has in stunting your personal growth. 

It doesn’t matter who you are, everybody has 10 minutes a day that they can spare to focus their attention on something besides a 9-5 job or homework. Choose something you want to be better at, and set aside 10 minutes a day or more to improve at that skill each day. By working on a skill 10 minutes a day, you are getting an extra hour of practice a week, and an extra 50 hours of practice a year. That’s an extra 50 hours that you likely would have spent on your phone. You will have the equivalent of an extra 2 days of your life back that were put towards your ultimate goals and progress, as opposed to essentially throwing that time away into the oblivion of the cosmos, never to be returned. 

So in the next few days, take note of how much you’re using your phone, find something worthwhile, and watch as you progressively stop thinking to check your phone every time there is a lull in your concentration. 

Seek excitement, not happiness!


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