Any Offline Activity Counts As Reading

A philosophy for the modern age

Social network life on your phone vector illustration. Hand holding smartphone editable mockup. Push...
Stop feeling guilty!

Once, a couple of years ago, my closest friends from high school and I were comparing our “screen time” that’s tracked on our phones. Both friends, employed in respectable, non-media careers, were shocked to learn that they spent about three hours a day each on their phones. They assured me that I shouldn’t be embarrassed of my eight hours because my job was being online (I was unemployed at the time). After this conversation, I never turned my screen time on again.

However, I’m sick of the guilt. The sanctimony. The idea that, blah blah blah, everyone’s looking at the phone all the time, ruining our necks, forgoing real-life communication, growing distant and unable to function in society. But I live alone and I am single. I spend all day looking at a screen for “work” and I guess outside of that, I’m supposed to be looking someone in the eyes or doing something with my hands? According to Google, outside of work you’re only supposed to have TWO HOURS of screen time a day.

So I’ve come up with a philosophy to counter the sickening morality righteousness of non-screentime people: not looking at your phone counts as reading.

Why reading? Well, I believe reading a book is the highest and most righteous thing a person can do, besides farming. It involves learning, thinking, disconnecting, and extreme focus, common skills people had before the Internet, when they used to needlepoint by candle light. But the reality is that it is impossible to expect me to read a book without looking at my phone every ten minutes for a half hour. This is why I think the new threshold for what counts as reading should only be the act of not looking at your phone.

The second I adopted this screen-friendly credo, I began to feel much less guilty about how much time I spend looking at screens. If I can watch a movie alone without looking at my phone once, that is the equivalent of reading Anna Karenina. If I play video games for hours and don’t look at my phone, or tweet, or text, or post about it — I’ve read two of the Elena Ferrante books. This is because it proves I can be truly alone and not care about what’s going on in the world. It means I can use all my willpower to focus on one thing at a time, and to really lose myself in one solid thing. If I can just try to fully disconnect for a little while, I’m going to say that’s the same thing as reading a book.

My new way of living still leaves some residual guilt, but as long as I’m not posting or actively on my phone for upwards of an hour I feel exactly like this Adrian Grenier tweet from 2014.

Distracted by the moment, sorry but thank you.