Night Phone Confessional
Night Phone Confessional by Francesca Gavin
Night mode engages my screen. A dull yellow glaze tries to combat the blue light that, apparently, disrupts sleep. It is (the screen) one of the largest contributions to contemporary insomnia. I am watching TV and absent-mindedly looking at my phone at the same time. Scroll, delete, swipe, and tap.
Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, includes the following conditions - eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain.
I am lying in bed swiping through Instagram. Post, like, swipe, comment. A stream of videos and images of artworks and commercial dance videos – play out before my eyes. I have now spent 45 minutes engaging with this hypnotic stream. The usual amount of time I end up burning my retina. After that my eyes get sore. Resolve to read some of the 15 books next to my bed instead. Again.
“Each day, the average internet user spends almost 2 hours on social networks. 16-24s and users in fast-growth markets spend significantly more time – peaking at almost 3.5 hours in the Philippines.” Global Web Index 2015
I plug the phone to charge its fading battery (for the third time that day) next to my bed. I know I should do this downstairs. But I don't. I put it on airplane mode. Telling myself that’s good enough. I am unconvinced. I have noticed I am still getting messages. Does that mean I am still getting the radiation from the phone next to my head? I vow yet again to learn to sleep without it near me.
The California Department of Public Health released new guidelines to reduce exposure to radiofrequency energy from phones in 2018, which have been linked to brain cancer, lower sperm count and memory damage.
I can’t sleep. I unplug the phone and start to tap apps. I start with podcasts. You Must Remember This. Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin. I have already devoured The Butterfly Effect by Jon Ronson. The sound of words always helps to lull me to sleep. I think it resembles the murmur of people talking when my parents had dinner parties as a child. Or listening perhaps to conversations inside of my mother’s womb. I become too engaged with the content. I look up AMSR videos on YouTube and listen to anonymous men whisper words I cannot hear until I fall asleep.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a term used for an experience characterized by a tingling sensation and "low-grade euphoria" triggered by specific auditory or visual stimulus.
Awake again. I pick up the phone (again), trying to hold it at an angle where the light isn’t too bright in my eyes. Failing, I go to settings and invert the colours of the screen, as if the electro black is any less vibrant. I check Instagram and my email again. I open a dating app and stare at faces I have no desire to see in life. They resemble rows of soup cans I find unpalatable on a supermarket shelf. Every once in awhile I mark my approval of the facsimile of a person. I will never write to them. They are just an element of my insomnia. If we connect, and actually ‘talk’, they often try to insinuate the desire for immediate mechanical sex. I get bored and turn the phone screen down on my bedside table.
More than half of the people interviewed about online dating in Rebecca D Heino, Nicole B Ellison, Jennifer L. Gibbs in their 2010 article ‘Relationshopping: Investigating the market metaphor in online dating’ used the market or shopping metaphor without being prompted.
I wake again. My legs are restless, vibrating with magnesium deficiency. I go to BBC iplayer and scroll through the dramas. I always head to horror and the supernatural first, classics second. The voices are often quieting, melodious and less intrusive to sleep. I drift off mid way through a Victorian ghost story.
Long periods sitting still or lying down can set off symptoms of restless leg syndrome, or the “uncontrollable urge to move the leg, that comes on at rest”.
Awake again. Pick up the phone. I know this stimulates my brain and eyes and makes it worse. I decide to be productive and look at my emails. Scroll, delete, star, forward. Sometimes I reply, misspelling my fragmented responses to editors and PRs.
Jonathan Crary’s ‘24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep’, is deeply critical of the political and commercial interests that oversee our relationship to technology in particular the speed of media stream and our attempts to keep up with its consumption.
I still haven’t managed to get back to sleep. I pick up the phone again. I consider pornography, the last resort for sleeplessness. Youporn. Xvideos. Literotica. The categories always repel me. Other people’s fantasies are often dull or violent. They feel so male orientated. I make a few half-hearted searches, don’t get turned on and put the phone down.
Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined each month. 30 percent of all transferred Internet data in 2013 was pornographic.
Time to get up. My battery is waning, as I had unplugged the phone for access in the night. I spend 40 minutes in bed scrolling through Instagram, finally tearing myself away to eat and wash and begin the day, eyes sore, happy for any meagre sleep I have managed to get. I plug in my phone before I leave my bed. I know I will be looking at it for hours in the coming day.
People with insomnia are 10 times as likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety.
Francesca Gavin is a writer and curator based in London. Her radio show Rough Version is on NTS.live monthly. www.francescagavin.com