My son John explained to me that he allows himself only five minutes of social media time each day. He is accountable to his wife Alleigh. I felt proud of him for recognizing how social media distracted him from weightier life matters, consumed hours of time better committed to real learning and real recreation and real entertainment and real human interaction. After watching the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix (I wrote to my children about it), I resolved to reform my social media and game-app habits. I uninstalled Solitaire—I was on level something hundred, after thousands of games. Quitting Solitaire was hard, like quitting caffeinated soda or chocolate. I stopped checking 37 times a day (is that all? you ask) for Facebook likes and WordPress visits and Instagram hearts, opting instead to check once or twice a day for family photos and life updates, and to make and respond to personal comments. I no longer scroll. Those visits and likes and love emojis have such a power and pull toward measuring life and success by their numbers: lots of visits = high value; just a few likes or hearts = low worth. Very quickly I could decide I am not liked, I am not worth much, I am unattractive, or out of shape, or obtuse. Such falsehoods and lies. Besides all this, I had lost my power of concentration and focus, interrupted unceasingly by smartphone lights and sirens, in the guise of blinks and dew drops—my days were fractured—so I turned off light and sound notifications except from the most important and least disruptive apps. And, I do not want some algorithm deciding for me what political and social views I should have and which products and services I should want to buy. I have intelligent, respected friends who decline to use Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram, and they are no worse off for it, and perhaps better off for having lifted their eyes up from their phone screens, to experience the world. So, instead of browsing videos and reels tonight, I am going to watch The Great British Baking Show and choose a decadent dessert recipe for tomorrow, I think chocolate croissants—from scratch.
On our last voyage to the grocery store, Mom ensconced a flat of vanilla cream sandwich cookies in her full cart, and I watched them lustily as they made their way to the kitchen pantry. The sugar and the fat are the problem: I am determined to stay unheavy and unfat and unflabby and to not come down with diabetes. The first night I was valiant in resisting the temptation of sweet creamy crunch. The second night I snuck two, which was allowable because my childhood allotment was three cookies so two could not possibly do me any harm. The third night I carried off three to my bedroom, breaking off tiny nibbles to extend the pleasure. Three was acceptable because the childhood allotment has long since taken on moral weight as the universally correct number of cookies for a human being to consume in one sitting. The fourth night I lifted four, a guilty excess of the universe’s cookie threshold, and I knew I was in trouble. If one could not stop at three, after all, when would one stop? On the fifth day, I carried the half-consumed package to Mom and explained, “Mom, these cookies are causing way too much trouble.” She looked worried. “They are just too good, and I’m going to eat all of them if you don’t do something with them.” That is the way it works for me: if I can resist buying them and bringing them home in the first place, I can abstain. But once they are in the house, I am powerless. Mom grinned and promised, “I will hide them from you.” I swear, I will not hunt them down as my sisters and I might have done in decades past. I felt instant relief that the exquisite cookies would tempt me no longer, and instant remorse for having to say good-bye.