get off your phone

More Mystery

Sometime last year I realized that something major was missing from my life. There was no mystery any more. I wanted to change that.

It all started with my phone.

I use my phone too much. Over the past decade it just became a way of life. I was always on my phone: early mornings at the airport, waiting backstage at a show, riding the train, walking to the gym.

“My name is Mark and I’m addicted to my phone.”

Well, I was addicted to my phone - but not anymore. I made steps to change that, all in an effort to add more mystery back into my life. I went from being on my phone around 4 HOURS A DAY to between 30 and 60 minutes every day for the past few months.

You might think I’m being over-dramatic here so do me a favor. Check your screen time right now. Chances are the number is pretty high. Don’t panic, it’s the culture we live in. But you can make changes to improve the relationship you have with your device(s).

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Want to break your phone addiction, too? Here’s how I did it:

  • I read a few great books on phone use, including this one. It’s full of useful ideas on how to limit your phone use and make more time for the things you love.

  • I stopped going on social media. Honestly, I despise it and had for years. I only kept using it because I thought I needed it to become a successful entertainer. The second I deleted Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram from my phone a huge weight was lifted. Not convinced? Read this book and try a week without social media for yourself.

  • I took Safari off my phone, too. The temptation to go to a web version of social media or mindlessly scroll the latest news stories was too great, so I removed that variable.

  • I changed where I charge my phone so that it wasn’t always within reach. When I’m home I try to leave it charging in the other room so my first impulse isn’t to grab my phone when I have down time.

  • I tried some other things, too, like changing my colors to greyscale or setting timers on social media. But those are too easy to bypass and I wanted to permanently alter my habits. Those methods might help you, though, so check out some more ideas here.

  • I’m almost always on Do Not Disturb mode. I only allow certain people to call me but keep my notifications off unless I’m on the road.

The first week of breaking your phone addiction is very weird. Out of habit, you take your phone out and go to open one of the most addictive apps. Then you realize they aren’t there, swipe around a few times and put your phone away.

After that, you’ll find yourself wondering how you’re going to fill the time. Everywhere you look you’ll see people on their phones, just constantly scrolling and double-tapping and clicking. It’s eye-opening.

Turns out, after a few weeks of limited phone use you start to crave other things.

I’ve been reading and running and writing more. Stephanie and I have been seeing more theatre lately. We saw a stunning production of Hamlet last week and an incredible concert a few days before. And, I didn’t need to tweet about it or watch it happen through my phone. It lives on in my memory, two of my favorite evenings in Chicago with my beautiful wife.

So, what does this have to do with mystery?

Well, breaking up with my phone made me realize how much mystery I was missing out on in my daily routine.

I was constantly able to have any information at a moment’s notice, with no regard for how incredible that information truly was. I could literally ask my phone for any answer and have it within seconds. That’s crazy! And absolutely unnecessary.

Deleting social media meant I wasn’t aware of the latest updates my friends were sharing. Their recent adventures were a mystery to me. Now when we get together, conversation is suddenly lively and fun again.

This personal realization about how social media was affecting me sent me down a wormhole in search of as much mystery as possible.

I’ve stopped Shazam-ing (new word I just made up) songs I didn’t know, just so I could force myself to be content not knowing what the song was.

I’ve stopped using GPS in the city when I’m headed to a new location. I’ll memorize the route before I leave home and if I get lost I just ask for directions. When people are given the chance to help you, they light up! We’ve forgotten how great it feels to do something nice for another person.

I stopped reading reviews. We wander into restaurants or shows now, without knowing what to expect. It’s marvelous.

We took a chance on a movie a few months ago without reading about it beforehand. And we ended up having an incredible night! Out of curiosity I looked up the Rotten Tomatoes score when we got home. I was shocked to learn that it was only 55%. I’m glad I didn’t know, because we probably wouldn’t have gone at all and would have missed one of the most fun date nights we’ve had in the past several years.

One night Stephie and I were sitting on the couch making each other laugh and suddenly found ourselves unable to remember a tagline from an old inside joke. We refused to Google it and sat there laughing, trying as hard as we could to remember. After 15 minutes, we looked at each other and said the phrase in unison. We laughed so hard we cried.

It takes time to adjust but not knowing is my favorite feeling in the world. It lets me appreciate the time I have now and the people I’m spending it with. It lets me focus on what matters most because I have no idea what comes next. And guess what? I don’t want to know.

I’m tired of having all the answers. I want more mystery.

Courtesy

I love theatre.

I love the moment when the curtain goes up and a hush goes over the room. I love being transported to another place, escaping my fears and anxieties for a few hours. I love sharing a moment of catharsis with several hundred strangers whom I may never share a moment with ever again.

I love the work that goes into a show - the lighting and scenery and sound and choreography. I love the marquee and the proscenium and the playbill. I love my ticket stubs, all neatly filed away in a box of keepsakes.

I absolutely love theatre.

To me, the theatre is a sacred place. The world sucks a lot of the time but theatre can help us forget about that, if only for a moment. A beautiful performance can transcend barriers and cultural divides. Theatre brings us all together.

I dress up when I go to the theatre. Usually a suit and tie. I block out the night of the show on my calendar and count down the days to the big event. 

I make it my mission to see as much live theatre as possible. I drive to neighboring cities or extend my trips when possible to catch a performance. I even flew to Europe once just to see a show. I don’t want to grow old regretting that I never saw such-and-such actor or singer or comedian or show in person. So I keep buying tickets and I keep going because the theatre is a big freaking deal.

Or at least that’s how it used to be. But lately, I’ve noticed a different trend.

I saw Hamilton last week. Yes, THAT Hamilton. And yes, it was as magical and extraordinary and moving and enchanting as everyone says. It was INCREDIBLE.

I paid $500 a ticket to attend, too. I put a bunch of money aside just for those tickets and turned down work just so I could stay in Chicago to see it. I waited two freaking years to see that show and I freaking LOVED it.

But, there was a young lady next to me who kept looking at her phone and smartwatch during the show. Every few minutes she’d sneak a glance at her phone and I’d notice the glow out of the corner of my eye. It’s really hard to get transported back to 1776 when someone next to you is deciding between emojis.

Why would you pay over $500 for a ticket, only to spend half of the time on your phone?

Are the actors not trying hard enough for you? Is the award-winning score not good enough for you? Are the rave reviews and Tony Awards not enough? Were you not moved by the relevancy of the subject matter and how it connects to our current political climate? Were you not entranced by the use of modern sounds to tell the story of the American Revolution?

What will it take to get you to put your phone down for a couple hours? What will it take for you to be here - in this moment - living for the now?

Nearly every time I see a show someone in the audience ends up being disrespectful. I’m tired of late arrivals and loud talking and people on their phones and people dressing down. I’m tired of other people ruining my experience at the theatre. If nothing else, shut up and let everyone else have a good time.

Look, I’m as connected as they come. In my office I have an iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and iMac all next to my windows. I spend all day working online so I can spend my evenings doing something I love.

And what I love most is to be in the theatre, either onstage or off. So when I’m there I turn off my smartwatch and silence my phone because I’m there to get lost for a while. I’m there to be part of a one-of-a-kind experience that will never happen the same way again.

I love everything about the theatre. Please don’t ruin that for me.