I’m convinced the apps today have made me addicted to checking them as often as possible, especially after listening to Chamath Palihapitiya (former head of growth at Facebook) talk about how they are built to be addicting. In this video Chamath shares his guilt for developing these apps, how they are ripping apart society, and why he doesn’t let his own children use these applications.

Part of my problem with these apps is that I don’t feel fulfilled after using them, and I consistently feel like I could do more or better — I’m convinced they evoke feelings of self pity and encourage self absorbed behavior.

This week I volunteered. I don’t normally volunteer, but am hoping to get in the habit of volunteering to eliminate feelings of self pity and selfishness.

I found an opportunity on volunteermatch.org — “Science Night”. My thoughts were that this would be an organized after school program where volunteers could drop in and help kids with their Science homework. I knew that this was going to be a little uncomfortable, but was convinced that it would make me feel better.

On my bike ride over, I started to feel uncomfortable, the neighborhood did not feel safe. When I arrived I felt very out of place, there were ten high school girls, and me. We waited in a lobby while the kids got ready to see us. This is when I realized that this was not the after school program I was envisioning. This Miami Children’s Home hosts 22 kids who have been neglected, abused, or abandoned. They range in age from 2–14. “No cell phones allowed” was written on a white board by the door when I walked in to see the kids.

This wasn’t a place to do science homework. This was a place to give kids attention. I can see why a no cell phones allowed policy was implemented. When I didn’t have that crutch to lean on during awkward first encounters to fact check certain conversation points or arguments, I was forced to maintain eye contact and engage with that person and give them the attention they crave.

I sat down next to one of the young men who was in the room, I struggled to find the words to start up conversation. I jumped into basketball since he was wearing a Jordan shirt, and he talked about his favorite players.

We had a disagreement over which team a certain player was on — I could have easily reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone to prove I was right, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that I sat down next to him, that I was present, and that we were having a engaging debate where he felt heard and was getting attention.

Every kid in the room was screaming for attention. One little girl made eye contact with me and rushed over to share that 2 + 2 = 4. She didn’t want to let go of the eye contact, it was a scarce resource, so she desperately rattled off as many other math solutions she could think of to keep the conversation going.

“Mom! Dad! Look at me!” were the thoughts I had looking back on my own childhood — How lucky was I? How spoiled was I? That I was able to have parents to go to and receive the attention that I craved and still crave. I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude while in this room.

Putting my phone away and volunteering was extremely satisfying and something I will continue to practice, it helped me get out of my own head and gave me new feelings of gratitude. If you’re interested in finding an opportunity to get out of the cell phone cycle, visit http://www.volunteermatch.org to find something satisfying.

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