Don’t Let Your Cell Phone Boss You Around

Dear Cell Phone: You’re no longer the boss of me!

Given that freedom-loving Prince advocated for partying when facing the very-real-in-the-1980s threat of nuclear war, it might seem counterintuitive to assert that Living Like Prince is about restraint. After all, the title track to 1982’s “1999” has Prince hedonistically declaring that if he’s going to be vaporized via nuclear annihilation, his top priority is to “listen to my body tonight.”

But yet — practicing restraint is exactly how I’ve spent a good portion of these first seven-plus months. Living Like Prince is about what I don’t do as much as what I do: Not eating every other day during January; not wearing sweats on a Target run in February; not using my given name in April; not acquiescing to things that deep down, I know aren’t right for me, in June.

August is no exception. Saying no to my cell phone is a “no” to the constant distraction (“bing!”) of notifications. By practicing restraint, I’m making room for something else to take the place of those minutes (hours?) of mindless scrolling.

Prince prioritized music-making. And as such, he had to show restraint in other areas. No device was going to rob him of his creative time or suck the life out of his creativity with its constant, mindless distractions.

As a recovering people pleaser and over-accommodator, I respect the way Prince stood firm on not having a phone, even if (especially if?) it inconvenienced others. (People are resourceful! If they need to reach you, I can assure you, they’ll find a way. They’ll figure out who’s with you and call that person). My first thought, which was that Prince was paranoid about his privacy, might be partially true, but it’s not the whole story. Prince was a rebel and his rebel nature expressed itself by being fiercely protective of his creativity and his dedication to making music in the face of any societal expectations. Could Prince’s lack of a phone at least partially account for his continued creativity and work ethic up to the very end? That might be stretching it a bit far, but it’s hard to deny that when you’re in “consuming content” mode — and consuming is exactly what mindlessly scrolling Instagram or binge-watching YouTube is — you’re not creating.

In a 2013 interview with V Magazine, writer Vanessa Grigoriadis says of interviewing Prince, “I ask how tech-averse he really is; does he have an iPhone? `Are you serious?’ he says. `Hell, no.’ He mimics a high-voiced woman. `Where is my phone? Can you call my phone? Oh, I can’t find it.’”

No, Prince wasn’t going to let some device run his life. Prince was notorious for denying his audiences their cell phones as well. You pull out a cell phone at a Prince concert, and you risk being unceremoniously removed from the show, end of story. But hey — he wasn’t asking anything of others that he wasn’t asking of himself. Grigoriadis describes a tense moment when entering the theater for the Prince and 3rdEyeGirl concert she attended in California:

“Both shows stretch to a delicious two hours, as the crowd, in blowouts and Vegas-style cocktail dresses (it’s worth dressing up for Prince, even in California), screams and sings along with glee. The only tense moment comes when we file into the theater and a security guard says, `No cameras, no cellphones—don’t even take them out of your pocket. Tonight, we’re not asking, we’re just escorting.’ I ask her what that means. `If we see you with your phone out, we’re not going to ask what you’re doing—you’re just gone.'”

I really need to implement this with my kids.

Grigoriadis goes on to share a moment at the end of the concert that’s especially poignant.

“At the end of the show he says, `Thank each and every one of you for leaving your cell phones in your pocket. I can’t see your face when you’ve got technology in front of it.'”

That, my friends, is the rationale for this month in a Princely nutshell. With a phone in front of your face, I can’t see you. I can’t connect with you. Disconnection, I believe, is at the heart of what ails our society. (Relatedly, if you have a child who’s even vaguely interested in medicine, point her/him toward orthopedics as there will be a heck of a lot of people with neck problems as the first crop of “digital natives” begins to age).

Will you let an electronic device boss you around?

Some 13 days into the month of August, and I already know my answer. In Prince’s immortal words: Hell no.

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