My phone and I had an abrupt parting of ways in June of 2022 when it was stolen at a Turkish restaurant.
My friend and I were enjoying our kebabs when a thief decided they needed my iPhone 11 more than I did (in hindsight, they probably did). After the initial shock of the situation subsided, I had to come to terms with a reality that didn’t involve a phone in my pocket.
Call it an impromptu digital detox.
Contrary to my previously held belief, the world kept spinning without the omnipresent comfort of a 6.84-ounce piece of glass pressed against my thigh. I won’t lie, I was incredibly uncomfortable without the ability to anxiously swipe through my regular rotation of apps the moment I was granted a minute of idle time.
But little did I know, there was an otherwise imperceptible, intangible and indelible beauty hiding in the crevices of that empty time.
Within a day, I was starting to appreciate simple nuances that before now were cloaked by hundreds of Instagram memes, pseudo social situations and reposted TikToks on every platform.
One Saturday night, I was waiting to meet some friends for dinner downtown. They were running late, but without a phone, I had nothing to scroll through.
So I watched as, across the street, two beefy bouncers approached a small potted plant, squatted down and moved it a trivial three feet from where it was previously located. Something about the absurdity of the whole situation caused me to burst out laughing. My friend, wondering what was so funny, looked at me puzzled.
All I could say was,“Those guys moved a plant.”
To some, the comedic value of the situation can’t compete with the millions of sources of entertainment at our fingertips. But in that moment, there was nothing that could have brought me more joy than seeing two oversized bouncers negotiate the location of a tiny potted plant.
I quickly realized that behind every compulsive phone pickup was a desire to stave off an old friend we were all once intimate with: boredom.
When we were all kids, boredom made up huge portions of our day. It was our job to fill that time with something, and the day became whatever our seven-year-old brains came up with.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that growing between the cracks of boredom were thoughts I didn’t know I had, passions I never knew I wanted to pursue.
Why is it that we hate boredom so much?
It might be because we’re growing up in the most anxious generation to date. Consuming content on our phones is much easier than being alone with our potentially anxious thoughts.
We’ve developed the innate reflex to turn our brains on autopilot and find comfort in allowing our screens to do the thinking for us. But it’s these thoughts we fear so much that allow us to discover who we are.
The content we consume to avoid the solitude of our minds does nothing but cloud our most profound outlooks, and in turn, our sense of self.
Of course, I now have a new iPhone that I use daily, and I’m guilty of aimlessly scrolling at times.
I know that I don’t have the self-restraint to go toe-to-toe with a multi-billion-dollar algorithm designed to capture my attention. And with no opportunists around to send me tumbling down a journey of self-discovery again, I’m left to my own devices to navigate my way back to a screenless existence.
Mayo Clinic says the urge to smoke lasts about five to 10 minutes. I would argue that the urge to unlock your phone lasts about just as long. Once you make it through that unholy five minutes of unadulterated human existence, you might notice something you’ve never seen before, or you might just rediscover a tiny part of yourself.
Moaz Elazzazi is the senior multimedia editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Moaz Elazzazi is a senior multimedia editor at The Spectrum. He is a mechanical engineering major with a minor in studio art. In his spare time, he can be found drawing pretty pictures, taking pretty pictures or fixing obsolete technology.