Resisting Mechanical Momentum

We conducted another experiment: throughout one week, students were challenged to check their phones only while seated. The phone is an integral gadget of modern life, used always and carried everywhere. An exercise themed around the phone can potentially transform its frequent use into an effective reminder. Moreover, our use of the phone spills beyond utility into an overflow of aimless checking and unnecessary scrolling. Forcing ourselves to sit down invites attention to these activities — without restricting them — so that we can better observe their nature and discover their roots.

For most of us, the task at first proved difficult. Habit thrives on inattention. By the time we realized we should be seated, we’d already delved deep into our apps. But with patient insistence, the task became more manageable till it surprisingly transformed into something altogether different. Our habitual urge to check the phone — along with the week-long task — became a wake up call. Our weakness became a strength.

The phone is one of many manifestations of mechanicality, all of which share in common inattention, momentum, and irresistibility. Other examples are fidgeting around, continually humming tunes, and replaying arguments with others in our minds. These are all evoked by some stimulus and continue rolling autonomously like wheels in our psychology long after the stimulus is gone. By forcing spokes into these wheels, we create friction, which creates energy, which can feed self-remembering. This was our labor for May.

“In order to observe himself a man… must stand when he is accustomed to sit, he must sit when he is accustomed to stand, and he must make with his left hand the movements he is accustomed to make with his right hand.”