The Daily Stoic for March 8th, “Don’t unintentionally hand over your freedom”.
“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled—have you no shame in that?”
—EPICTETUS, ENCHIRIDION, 28
If yesterday’s stoic was a point of disagreement between me and Stoicism, I can’t agree more with today’s passage.
The other day, I went for dinner with my partner to a restaurant here in Riga. At a certain point, I had a look around and realized most people at the restaurant were staring at their mobile phones.
There were even couples that spent the whole dinner without exchanging a word. They were lost within their screens, and didn’t talk during the whole evening.
For quite some years now, I strive to not get my phone out of my pocket unless I need it. This means that I actively want to find some information, send an email or otherwise do something I need to do, not just procrastinate on a social app.
Quitting social media certainly has helped. Disabling all notifications from my smartphone too.
After years doing it, I have to admit I am secretly proud of not getting my phone out every time I am alone for 1 minute.
Don’t Unintentionally Hand Over Your Freedom
Where I disagree with today’s stoic passage is when it affirms that these distractions are unintentional:
“We don’t even know that we’re doing this. We don’t realize how much waste is in it, how inefficient and distracted it makes us. And what’s worse—no one is making this happen. It’s totally self-inflicted.”
There’s an amazing TED talk from Tristan Harris on how a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day. The scariest part for me is when he says:
“Because when you pull out your phone and they design how this works or what’s on the feed, it’s scheduling little blocks of time in our minds. If you see a notification, it schedules you to have thoughts that maybe you didn’t intend to have.”
This is so painfully obvious once you read it that if it doesn’t make you disable all notifications from your phone, nothing will.
Nothing that happens today, not at least inside your phone’s screen, is unintentional. There are multibillion companies fighting for your attention, riding a race to the bottom to get you engaged.
Don’t hand them over your freedom. Protect your mind, your thoughts. Be the owner of your time and what you think, see and experience.
It was a pleasant surprise to read today’s Daily Stoic: “Don’t unintentionally hand over your freedom”, because I truly believe we need to live and experience the world instead of getting lost inside our phones. Today, more and more people spend every single minute alone, waiting at the bus, or even at a romantic dinner, looking at their screens.
Where I disagree is about the intentionality. It’s clear that there’s a whole industry out there fighting for our attention and engagement. It takes us conscious decisions and a deliberate effort to free our minds and be the owners of our mobile devices, not the other way around.