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Addicted to Apps: Sorry, Scrabble, I'm on the Wagon

Face it, we've all become electronic junkies who'd rather stare at our iPhones and constantly check email than ... you know, talk or think

By Elizabeth Wray | August 16, 2012
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Elizabeth Wray writes stories, essays, and articles for a variety of publications. She currently lives in New York.

Okay, I’m addicted. I didn’t think I was, but I am. Not to junk or booze or food but, I’m embarrassed to say, to my Scrabble app.

Before you dismiss me as a lightweight, let me crawl into your own tiny room of app addiction and whisper that it may be more serious than you think.
 
I am currently on the wagon. After a year of secretly playing Scrabble on my iPhone — at first, just while standing in lines, then on the subway instead of reading, which led to long evening sessions in my study and finally what I called "writing breaks" throughout my workday — I decided to delete the game.
 
The moment my finger killed the app, I sighed. Deeply. It felt like being immediately transported to a meditative state. This euphoric relief lasted for a solid half-minute. And then my email dinged. Who could it be? My daughter, son, partner, editor, friend or the New York City Ballet announcing its fall season. Ooooooooooh....

(More: My Kids Are My Apps: How I Successfully Downloaded Them)
 
Who isn’t addicted to the electronic life? My partner’s app of choice is solitaire. Ditto for at least 10 other people I know. She plays it to reduce anxiety when she’s a passenger in a car or on a crowded train, but also just to fill moments that, if left unfilled, would invite random anxious thoughts: in front of the TV while others watch a costume drama, in rooms full of people voicing opinions, or in bed after reading the Times online because she's unable to sleep. (Hmmm, wonder why.) She needs her solitaire.
 
In order to feel not quite so bad about the fate of my work-bound Protestant soul, I regulate my electronic addictions. I make a daily list of things to accomplish and then add “Check email at 11, 1, 3, 5 ONLY.” And I turn off the sound so I won’t hear the ding. I allow myself to look at Facebook only at the end of the day — and I scroll fast to satisfy my  curiosity. Has my son’s girlfriend reported anything about their life in L.A.? Has my Cuban salsa community posted any good dance clips? And what’s going on in the mind of a gregarious physicist I know?
 
I also regulate Google. I Google with intention, focused on my project of the moment, constantly wary of the search engine’s countless Sirens, its infinite odysseys just a touch away, its terrible tunnels to elsewhere. (This is not always successful in the wake of current events, like the Olympics.)
 
Yet my Googling is more or less under control. I know many writers who are so tempted to Google that they've signed up for MacFreedom to keep them on task. This software disables the Internet for up to eight hours, touting itself as “the choice of professionals,” including prominent writers Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith, Miranda July and Nick Hornby.
 
Still, my electronic addictions continue to plague me. (I just checked email three times in the last 15 minutes.) I think back to the days when I was a happy Luddite: Kin to Ned Lud and his gang of mill workers, who destroyed some of the first machines of the Industrial Revolution, I once resisted the oncoming Electronic Age. My Addicted Self views things differently.

Argument With My Addicted Self
 
Addicted Self: You’re no Luddite — you bought one of the first Macs in 1985, when it was called the Macintosh.

Me: Hey, remember when I was perfectly happy with my Selectric typewriter and no television, and my boyfriend would show up at my door in San Francisco after hitchhiking from the East Coast just to surprise me, so we could have a few epic all-night conversations about the state of American poetry before he disappeared back across the country, sending a string of postcards in his wake?

Addicted Self: That is completely off-point.

Me: Maybe it is the point.

Addicted Self: The point is that you now own a laptop, a desktop, a smart phone and a Kindle. And you bought your partner an iPad for her birthday.

Me: The point is, we’ve forgotten how to have idle conversation, to be bored, to imagine!

Addicted Self: Please! You never walk out the door without your iPhone and Kindle.

Me: I wish there were an Off-Grid app. Whenever you experienced information overload, it would prompt you to lie down and drift with the passing clouds.

Addicted Self: You’re full of it.

Me: I mean it.

Addicted Self: You already have a Zen Bell app to tell you when to stop meditating. Gong. Gonnng. Gonnnnnnng.

Silence.

Me: I really love that app.

It's a Dangerous World Out There

Like Ned Lud, I often wish I could obliterate the clank and clatter of this new age. Perched on the contemplative shores of my quiet life, reading a book or enjoying a lively Sunday dinner at home with friends, I am aware, like a latter-day Dickens, of discord in the distance as an armada of glittery, gossipy information approaches. Click click, it taunts; my index finger twitches. But, for the moment, I turn up the music and dim the lights.