My phone

I’ve written about this subject before, but everything old is new again, and I thought it was time to revisit it.

In my interactions with various women, I’ve been confronting some of my failures in perspective-taking and empathy, and an inability to imagine people operating differently than I do. I’d like to describe how I interact with my phone, with my computer, with notifications generally, and with those associated with messages more specifically.

My life is somewhat compartmentalized. There is N, the author of this blog, the participant in extracurricular dating and sex, and then there’s N’, the person who works and has friends and a family. This compartmentalization once was rigid and complete. Today it’s much healthier, much more gestural, much more about convenience than about dissociation. When I’m N’, I’m also N, and when I am N, I’m also N’. Most people who know either know the other. Maybe not immediately with respect to those who meet me as N, but usually by the time my cock is in someone’s mouth for the second time, she knows about N’.

On my phone, these distinctions are reflected with various apps and accounts. Both of us have Gmail accounts. Both of us, in fact, have multiple Gmail accounts. Both of us have Gmail accounts which alert with notifications when new messages arrive. Both of us have email accounts that do not alert with notifications when new messages arrive.

If you’re interacting with me, if we’re texting back and forth, your messages, whether they’re email or text or Telegram or WhatsApp, pop up with fresh notifications in real time. The only exception to this is that occasionally if I’m in a situation where my phone is not in my hands but is being shared among multiple people for various reasons, I might turn off N’s notifications. There’s not one switch with which I can do this. It means turning off N’s Telegram account, turning off N’s Google Voice account, maybe turning off N’s email account, and maybe turning off N’s WhatsApp account. This never happens for more than an hour or so at a time. So that’s the deal with notifications.

But then there’s my own interaction with my phone, the frequency with which I see my notifications and the frequency with which I check my notifications. When I was younger, in the days before cell phones, I compulsively checked my mail and my answering machine. Sometimes running home from work at lunchtime to check my mail, often calling my answering machine and checking it remotely three, five, ten, or twenty times a day. The advent of first Blackberries and then cell phones was an enormous balm to me as it erased from my mind at all times the possibility that there was a notification of which I was unaware. And for years, compulsively, madly, I would check every notification within moments of its arriving, regardless of what I was doing. And I do mean regardless of what I was doing.

As time passed, I developed a somewhat healthier, or at least less unhealthy, relationship to all this. I would set my phone aside for 15, 20, 40, 60, or 120 minutes. I wouldn’t look at it. I might think about whether there were notifications, but I wouldn’t check them. And when the allotted time of separation between me and my transitional object, my phone, passed, I would check. Not with compulsivity, but with enthusiasm.

This was a much more joyful space. It’s the space in which I live for the most part now.

Realistically, what this means is that on any given day, there are four or five or eight or twelve periods of up to an hour or so when I don’t see my phone. But at the end of each of those periods, I do. I see my notifications and I check them. And unless a notification requires a thoughtful, engaged response, I typically respond with a sentence or two pretty much immediately. As a result, I have a reputation for being a quick responder. No one waits more than an hour or two to hear from me on anything of any import. Unless, as I said, substantial thought is required for my response. In which case, typically, I will acknowledge receipt and offer a realistic time frame as to when that thoughtful response might be given.

And then I live up to that promise.

I’m always a little baffled – and sometimes dysregulated – by those who operate by different rules.

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