Becoming a cyborg could have been liberating. In 1985, scholar Donna Haraway posited that as the categories of human, animal and machine became blurred, the rigid boundaries of gender, labor and other symbolic oppressors could collapse. In some ways, the smartphone has made progress toward this end: In cyborg fashion, our phones are an extension of the body, and the social media cultures we’ve created with it suggest that, at least for some, a more utopian landscape wherein gender is fluid, if not nonexistent, is somewhat possible.
But if my smartphone has freed me from the chains of gender, it’s locked me to new ones in the process. I’m on my phone for six and a half hours every day, ostensibly accomplishing nothing for it. My brain can’t get enough of the little beeps and flashes of a notification that someone liked my tweet about, like, being mentally ill and having a giant rack. Rather than some badass half-robot, I’m more like a lab mouse voluntarily electrocuting myself for a piece of cheese.
It would seem that the best time to curb this addiction would be first thing in the morning. If I start my day by not thumbing through my phone, perhaps the remainder of the day can take on a similar tone. If anything, I’ll have at least cut down on my phone usage by a half hour or so.
Beyond wanting to reduce my screen time for the sake of itself, making a habit of not looking at my phone as soon as I open my eyes just seems like a logical move toward a better state of mind. If my first experiences of the day are reading some horrific headline and opening five anxiety-inducing work emails, it’s easy to let that mood stay with me. Reading the news isn’t just linked to mental health issues, but physical ones, too — the stress it can trigger can lead to digestive problems, lack of hair growth and even higher susceptibility to infections.
Genuine question, though: What am I supposed to do with myself as I wake up besides quietly reinvigorating/degenerating my brain with content?
There are, apparently, a swell of options. But before I even get into that, I ought to buy an alarm clock. Since many of us use our phones as an alarm, reaching for them is literally the first thing we do. But if you’re not willing to do that, there are still some other options.
“I put my phone on airplane mode when I go to sleep and try to leave it on for the first 20 minutes of my day,” says Ashley Uzer, 25, in L.A. “It helps me not start my day on a potentially negative note and focus on me.” By utilizing airplane mode, Ashley is still able to set an alarm while ensuring there are no spicy notifications to drag her into the abyss of scrolling the moment she wakes.
Similarly, Sean, 30, in Tampa, utilizes his Apple Watch as an alarm. “Clicking that open screen button creates a wormhole in time and suddenly two hours are gone,” he tells me. He finds that the Watch generally keeps him off his phone, since there’s no reason to check it when the Watch will notify him of calls or texts, anyway.
Others I speak to say they sleep with their phones plugged in another room entirely. “It helps you get up and moving, and not laying in bed on the phone,” says Jason in Boston.
Still, there are people who’ve figured out how to start their day without a form of restraint or safeguard. Not checking their phone is just normal for them. Instead, they simply begin their usual morning routines of brushing their teeth, brewing coffee and maybe even exercising. Children and pets seem to provide solid anti-phone encouragement, in that they often require your immediate attention upon waking, or maybe even woke you up in the first place.
But without another living, breathing thing demanding your attention, figuring out what to do with yourself as opposed to scrolling through social media can be a challenge. There’s a ton of advice out there on what you should be doing as an alternative, but much of it is of the #hustleporn variety. “If you make checking social media the first action of your day, then you make the first action of your day giving into a craving for novelty, and that counteracts all of the work you’ve been doing to build your focus muscle,” says motivational YouTuber Thomas Frank in his video “8 Things to STOP Doing When You Wake Up in the Morning.”
In a video from a channel called Be Inspired, speed-reading guru Jim Kwik explains how checking your phone first thing shapes you into a “reactive” person, whereas the most successful people create their own “positive momentum.” As for him, he says that he begins his day by recalling his dreams, making his bed (a “success habit”), drinking a glass of water, practicing his breathing techniques (?) and meditating.
I’d like to dunk on him for all this, but let’s be honest: It sounds a lot less depressing than my current routine of immediately working myself into a fit of existential anxiety over tweets railing against “Bernie Bros” or wondering why my last selfie didn’t get more likes overnight. I’d love to convince myself to journal or stretch or meditate on my future fantasy life every morning, but I’m certainly not alone in my inability to figure out how to do so. “I’m addicted and always look first thing in the morning,” my friend Jade, 24, in Seattle, messaged me with a frowny face. Yet, she continues to be a productive, successful person, and to an extent, so do I. We’re just productive, successful people who also happen to be addicted to our phones.
Recently, I switched from checking social media first thing to playing game apps, instead. I think maybe, when Haraway envisioned the freedom of the cyborg in a technological world, the multicolored saccharine quest of Candy Crush is almost what she meant.