Recently I’ve been trying to follow my friend Leda’s advice on taming the compulsive need to pull my iPhone out any spare moment: the eight seconds in which the grocery clerk is running a price check, the twenty seconds it takes to walk to the bathroom, the thirty-seven seconds between ordering my Americano and receiving it. It feels schmucky, especially when it means I am looking at a screen instead of a person who is just trying to help me: you’re bagging my groceries, and I can’t even talk to you for ten seconds?
Leda’s advice was to resist pulling out the phone during any empty time of less than 5 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a high bar, but honestly it rules out about 95% of my non-phone iPhone usage (because if I have more than 5 minutes available, and I want to do something online, I almost always use my iPad).
Here’s the problem: I like to check my email. This is a problem I have focused on taming with my strategies for breaking the habit of compulsive e-mail and Twitter check-ins; in exceptional cases, I even set up mail rules that forward an eagerly-awaited e-mail to my phone. But still I can’t resist the urge to whip out my phone during each micro-pause, in case there is some gem awaiting my attention.
There’s no question it’s incredibly distracting or even (in the grocery scenario) rude. But there is a sunny side to this equation, too. We check our emails not only because the boss expects it, or a client demand it, or because we are inescapably terrified of missing something for even three minutes. We check our emails because there are people we love or respect or simply want to stay connected to, and email is the way to do that. Email is, increasingly, our emotional anchor.
It’s a sentiment that is summed up in its most charming form by a song that has become an anthem in our house: Pete Combe’s I like to check my email.