Stop reaching for your phone in the morning

We may not be in control of what the algorithms favor and elevate into our feeds, but we can be in control of how we respond by elevating ourselves above the digital noise that surrounds us.
(Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

The media has a lot of teshuvah to do.

From what seems to be a never ending list of mistakes, to the outright publication of “fake news,” there are many reasons (for better or worse) why trust in the media remains at all time lows.

Bring in the Wild West that is social media and you seem to have nothing but an endless void of people screaming into the void demanding our attention.

So what can we do about it?

My life is steeped in media consumption; however, there’s only so much a human can take in before it starts to affect you at a deeper level — especially when it comes to consuming think piece after think piece, or tweet after tweet, the Jewish media puts out. Consuming this much content is more than just an occupational hazard, it is an unhealthy lifestyle.

So, I have a hard rule: After waking up, I do not touch my phone until after my morning prayers. 

(Okay, I am only human after all. I do allow myself a quick peek at the screen to see if anything “blew up” overnight, but that’s it. No scrolling until after I’m done davening.)

Little did I know by skipping the phone for my siddur, I was inadvertently using an ancient technology to combat a very modern problem. 

Reaching for the phone first thing in the morning forces your body to skip a very important step in the wakeup process, one that actually helps us tap into our subconscious. 

Let me explain the science. 

While we are asleep our brain produces delta waves, which then become theta waves as we first wake up. Theta waves give you that daydream-like, happy, groggy feeling when you first open your eyes.

Then, as the brain continues to wake up, it begins to produce alpha waves, which help us to slowly process the world around us. Researchers say grabbing the phone first thing and going down the online rabbit hole causes our brains to skip the valuable theta and alpha stages.

And what are we missing out on? A lot actually. Scientific American reported that “the ideation that can take place during the theta state is often free flow and occurs without censorship or guilt.” In other words, we are missing out on an important daily, uncensored conversation with our inner self.

By not rushing to the phone, I was inadvertently creating the space my brain needed to help acquire the patience to healthily navigate the minefield that consuming media can be.

Before implementing this rule, my mornings were rushed and my emotions were all over the place. More often than not, I found myself upset at the world before I even stepped foot out of my bed. Guided by the glow of my screen in the morning light, my feelings were all over the place. I was becoming more outraged and agitated as each new post flew past with the headlines and commentary growing more sensational. I found myself caring way too much about a random post by a random person that I didn’t even know. 

Obviously, this is not a very healthy way to start the day.

That’s when I discovered an additional benefit to my rule — by pausing in the morning, I gave myself a much needed daily reset. I created a time and space that allowed me to check in with myself before tackling the noise of the world. Instead of social media influencing me, I got into a healthier headspace to tackle the world coming to me via my phone.

Within my morning prayers there is a special moment that brings this all together, a time when I pause and reflect with extra concentration: 

May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my ancestors, to save me today and every day, from the arrogant and from arrogance itself, from a bad man, a bad friend, a bad neighbor, a bad mishap, a destructive adversary, a harsh trial and a harsh opponent, whether or not he is a son of the covenant.

Berakhot 16b

Even though Rabbi Judah HaNasi wrote this prayer in the late second to early third century, I jokingly refer to it as the prayer for the modern “social media warrior” because it perfectly encapsulates everything that can and will go wrong while spending a day consuming media online and on your phone. 

I was entirely unaware that my morning phone rule was based in science. Research shows that people who start their mornings on their phones are more stressed, scattered and overwhelmed.

It is extremely hard to break free from social media’s addictive psychological power. Just think about it, these platforms have created a technology that is so hardwired into our daily routines that we instinctively reach for it first thing in the morning. A former Google design ethicist bluntly put it this way: “[Product designers] play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.”

In other words, our apps are designed to be addictive and mind-numbing — to the point that these apps implement the same tactics casinos use to keep gamblers engaged. That’s why you can spend an hour in bed swiping without realizing that so much time has passed you by.

Further complicating all of this is the fact that digital dopamine is fueled by outrage and rage. These two emotions are what social media platforms prioritize because they know it’ll keep you in bed swiping longer.

Algorithms are designed to enrage because data shows that an enraged user is an engaged user. An engaged user spends more time online, and more time spent online leads to more profits. This is not a secret, it’s a topic constantly talked about within my industry. 

This is why social media seems to promote arrogance and the arrogant. This is why bad voices are amplified over the good. This is why mishaps tend to go viral more than the uplifting. This is why the media bases coverage decisions on stories that don’t have a large overall impact on society but have a “rage factor.” This is why we tend to focus on the noise instead of the larger, bigger picture stories.

So this new year, I invite you to be more mindful of the noise that’s out there. Trust us, we won’t mind if you don’t come to us first thing in the morning, but when you do, you’ll know that you’ll be getting an unbiased view of the top stories that are affecting the Jewish world each day.

The fact of the matter is the world, including the Jewish world, is complicated. Here at Unpacked, we don’t subscribe to the idea that we have to distill things down into sound bites in order to feed the algorithms.

Instead, our goal is to tell stories with nuance and complexity, recognizing that people and stories are complex. 

We seek to reveal the hidden, to teach without being trapped in a black and white worldview. We try to lean into the conflict of ideas that bring out insights. 

We believe that the journey to self-discovery begins with inquiry. We want to uncover complexities in our reporting so that you can better develop your own understanding. That is our goal as a media company.

We want you to discover new insights through our work. These can be academic, intellectual, emotional or philosophical — and yes, that does include rage (when it is warranted).

So there is hope. We may not be in control of what the algorithms favor and elevate into our feeds, but we can be in control of how we respond by elevating ourselves above the digital noise that surrounds us.

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