I’m trying to work on disconnecting from my phone, specifically video games and social media. It’s not that I think either of these things are inherently bad, just that they seem to trigger an addictive response in my brain and I’ve learned that the more I engage with things that reward this response, the less in tune I become with myself. Not to mention my stiff traps and thumb pain, both of which are indicative of way too much time spent hunched over a tiny screen.
I’ve had a Facebook and Instagram checking problem ever since I got an iPhone, but around the same time that I was verging on a breakdown last year I also became obsessed with a ‘harmless’ little game called Restaurant Story 2. This is one of thousands of time management games you can get from the App store – I just liked this one best because it had to do with food. Go figure.
These games are all exactly the same. They force you to wait for longer and longer amounts of time to achieve ‘goals’, relying on natural human impatience to make you say screw this and spend real money to buy digital gems. These can be spent on speeding up your sandwich making capabilities or purchasing a deluxe virtual oven. Everyone has heard horror stories of parents whose credit cards were charged with hundreds of dollars worth of digital Smurf Berries when they had foolishly handed over poorly secured phones to children. Over Christmas my sister in law told me that her mother had spent over $1000 progressing levels on Candy Crush last year. While I rolled my eyes at the story, deep inside I was wondering if my own virtual restaurant might be as prone to causing bankruptcy as a real restaurant might. Two nights earlier I had broken my self imposed rule of no real money and casually used my thumb print to approve the purchase of 300 gems for $6.99. I justified this purchase by the fact that the gems were ‘on sale’. Then I had expanded my restaurant and purchased a stove which took days to cook anything, unless of course you fed it more gems.
As a health care worker, many of the people I work with have gambling addictions. The majority of them are addicted to pokies (slot machines for non-Australians) which are ubiquitous in the pubs and clubs of Sydney. And it’s no wonder. These machines are designed to be addictive (see the movie Ka-Ching if you want to find out how intelligent the design really is). It took another purchase of digital gems (this time for the RRP of $12.99) and paying off the subsequent charge on my credit card to tune in to the fact that these time management games run on similar mechanisms as pokies. In fact, they are virtually the same thing, only with absolutely zero chance of a jackpot (pokies have almost the same statistic). I could quite honestly feel my brain rewiring the more I played. I had started to check the game compulsively. On the bus, waiting in line, watching tv, trying to have a conversation with my husband. “Just a second babe, I need to see if my French dips are ready to be delivered to the cruise ship.”
The final straw came when I had spent seven days trying to cook recipes for the aforementioned cruise. Completing the exercise without forking out real money requires a level of checking that verges on insane. Several times I got up in the middle of the night to pee and ended up staring into the blue light of my phone, frantically trying to accrue the ingredients to make potato soup. The reward for all of these hours? A digital puppy trainer – an obvious essential for any successful restaurant. On the final day I ended up going to meet a friend for lunch. While I had dutifully made BLTs on the whole hour’s long bus ride to see her, lunch ran longer than expected, and then we went for a long walk and she gave me a ride halfway home. All of this was very nice, but it had cut crucial hours out of my production schedule. That night as I sat in the dark desperately trying to load onions onto the boat, the cruise ship departed, taking my digital puppy trainer with it. I looked in disbelief as the timer ran to zero. I felt a sense of defeat and emptiness. I turned off my phone and went to bed. When I got up to pee, I did so in the dark. There was nothing left to check.
So it was that my failure was also my emancipation. Having invested so much time into the challenge without success gave me the chance to reflect for a while. It seemed like such a trivial little pastime, playing this game, yet it had eaten up a lot of real time and money that could have been spent, if not productively, then at least on something that gave me actual satisfaction or happiness. These games are not simply entertainment, but a method of dulling and stupefying people (mostly children) into mindlessly throwing away money. Like pokies with training wheels! I thought to myself, feeling oh so smug as I took hold of this moment of clarity to erase all of the games on my phone. Then since I was on there, I checked Facebook and Instagram.
One step at a time.