Could You Make It Through Dinner Without Checking Your Phone?

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The reason for the tech-free dinner? The cellphones were stashed in a small decorative box on their table, an initiative that Marco Canora, Hearth’s chef and owner, began in November to help customers disconnect from their devices for a little bit.

Some restaurants, partly from irritation when patrons take pictures of the food, place limits on cellphones in their dining rooms. Others, including in Chicago and San Antonio, have banned them entirely.

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‘I felt exposed online’: how to disappear from the internet

keyboard with smoke coming out of it

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In recent months, the scale of the erosion of our anonymity has become dauntingly clear. In humming, ice-cooled server farms, the monoliths of Silicon Valley gather fat troves of personal information. This much we have known for years – as early as 2010, an investigation found that Facebook apps were routinely collecting information for internet-tracking companies without our consent – even from private accounts. But the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal brought new clarity. Those who downloaded their personal data files found that Facebook and its associated apps had been tracking phone calls, reading messages and plundering phonebooks.

This gleeful, grasping attitude to our data is in the social network’s DNA. This year it was revealed that in 2004, while Facebook was still a university campus website on which male students could rate the attractiveness of female students, its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, sent an instant message to a friend in which he boasted that he had collected more than 4,000 emails, pictures and addresses of people who had signed up to the service.

“What?” Zuckerberg’s friend exclaimed. “How’d you manage that one?”

“People just submitted it,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I don’t know why. They ‘trust me’.”

“Dumb fucks,” he added, after a pause.

How to Break Up With Your Phone

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I still wanted to use my phone when it was helpful or fun. But I wanted a new relationship with it — one with better boundaries, and over which I had more control. I spent the next year and a half researching habits, addiction, behavior change, mindfulness and neuroplasticity, and developed a comprehensive strategy for how to “break up” with my phone. The goal wasn’t to never use my phone again; it was to create a sustainable relationship that felt healthy.

Two years later, I feel that I’ve succeeded. Here are some of the key things I learned on how to navigate a successful breakup and create a better relationship with your phone.

How I Got My Attention Back

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There are a thousand beautiful ways to start the day that don’t begin with looking at your phone. And yet so few of us choose to do so.

Was I being too hard on technology? Were we all? Technology is such an easy scapegoat. But it feels so right to point our fingers — It must have been the fake news. It must have been Facebook. It must have been Twitter. It must have been Reddit forums.

It was none of these things. It was all of these things. Whatever it was, it robbed us of our attention and, with that, our compassion. But the network never meant to harm us. Hell, it was made by a gaggle of geeks in rooms without windows in the suburbs of Geneva. That’s either the most endearing image, or the most creepy.

Regardless, down in Virginia, on a repurposed plantation: I want my attention back. The thought wouldn’t let go.

Twitter’s Great Depression

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I left Twitter on January 1st.

Yet, I am jonesing.

I’ve been on Twitter for over 10 years. I’ve met a ton of great people on there. And up until recently it’s been fun! (I wrote about my whole history with Twitter a while back.) It was often the first thing I checked in the morning and the last thing I checked at night. It was like air. And then it wasn’t fun anymore. (Some would argue that for them, it was never fun. And that distinction was/is often based along gender and racial lines.) And now it’s gone from not being fun to being toxic.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve sent a tweet. The app’s still on my phone. (They say the best way to quit is with a pack still in your pocket.) The account’s still up for practical reasons. First off, I use it to log in to several things. Yeah, I can change that, but it’s a pain in the ass. More importantly, people still DM me once in a while, and some of those are business leads, which I don’t want to lose. Plus, I’ve got embedded tweets all over the place, and other folks have embedded my tweets in their own articles. So if I actually shut down the account things break. I don’t want things to break any more than they already have.

Teens ‘rebelling against social media’, say headteachers

Girls give up their phones at Beneden for three days

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Almost two-thirds of schoolchildren would not mind if social media had never been invented, research suggests.

A survey of almost 5,000 students, mainly aged between 14 and 16, found a growing backlash against social media – with even more pupils (71%) admitting to taking digital detoxes to escape it.

Benenden, an independent girls boarding school in Kent, told BBC News that its pupils set up a three-day “phone-fast”.

Some girls found fears of being offline were replaced by feelings of relief.

The Useless Agony of Going Offline

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In his book, Levy, who also teaches tech and mindfulness courses at the University of Washington’s Information School, writes that most people who attempt this sort of experiment successfully complete it, and that they often “feel good about it.” He offers examples of individuals who noted that a day unplugged represented “one of the best days I had had in a long time,” and who “welcomed the silence and the relief of pressure.”

…Good on those folks, sincerely. But I hated spending three days without computers. And I feel no deep shame about this. I don’t think my disdain for the logged-off existence was due primarily to the fact that I’m addicted to social media, or cannot live without my phone, or have morphed into the prototypical “Distracted Man.”

Levy writes that when we choose to cast aside “the devices and apps we use regularly, it should hardly be surprising if we miss them, even long for them at times.” But what I felt was more general. I didn’t miss my smartphone, or the goofy watch I own that vibrates when I receive an e-mail and lets me send text messages by speaking into it. I didn’t miss Twitter’s little heart-shaped icons. I missed learning about new things.

During the world’s longest weekend, it became clear to me that, when I’m using my phone or surfing the Internet, I am almost always learning something. I’m using Google to find out what types of plastic bottles are the worst for human health, or determining the home town of a certain actor, or looking up some N.B.A. player’s college stats. I’m trying to find out how many people work at Tesla, or getting the address for that brunch place, or checking out how in the world Sacramento came to be the capital of California.

What I’m learning may not always be of great social value, but I’m at least gaining some new knowledge—by using devices in ways that, sure, also distract me from maintaining a singular focus on any one thing.