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How To Kill Time Without Staring at Your Phone

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Once upon a time, standing around and waiting involved exactly that: Standing around, waiting, and not doing much else. Today, any free moment is spent facedown in a phone. Stop reading this on your own phone. Right now. Look around. At this moment, you should be the only person, anywhere in sight, not looking at a phone.

But staring at that phone isn't the only way to wait. You can do other stuff. In fact, there are exactly six things you can do instead.

Make eye contact.

People used to do this all the time. You could recognize a neighbor or share a moment with an attractive stranger. It can still happen—but you have to be careful. You don't want to be caught staring right at the moment that person looks up from his (or especially her) phone. Wait until the fleeting few seconds when this person looks away from the phone for some reason, then casually lock eyes. Smile! It will seem a lot less weird that way. When you get back online, this kind of encounter is a great thing to put on Craigslist as a Missed Connection.


Talk about the weather.

This is a classic. If you're new at it, try some established introductory phrases.

  • "This is some rain!"
  • "Hot enough for ya?"
  • "They say it's gonna turn cold tomorrow!"

For this to work, you'll need a little luck, because you have to find someone else who is also not looking at a phone. Otherwise, there's a data-filled weather app just a tap away. Not to mention that look: Why are you talking to me, can't you see I'm looking at my phone?


Observe your surroundings.

If you look up from your phone for long enough, you can notice amazing things happening all around you. A pigeon pecking at a pizza crust. A man pushing a shopping cart piled higher than his head. A grown woman weeping hysterically. That's real life! And it is stunning. Once you get back on your phone, all of these observations will make excellent tweets.


Find unusual patterns.

This one is a bit of a brain teaser. Look over at that odd brick wall, or the hexagonal tile on the floor, or that way the ice cubes collect at the bottom of your glass. Gaze into these shapes. Watch them form new shapes. See the shapes begin to arrange themselves, rotating, and falling into position. So chaotic, yet so organized. You know what? This calls for a quick game of Tetris.


See what other people are looking at on their phones.

This is an endlessly fascinating sociological exercise, and it can also give you fresh ideas about what you could be doing on your own phone. A scouting report from a recent bus ride:

  • Shiny gold case. Hot pink case. iPhone 5, no case.
  • Cracked white iPhone 4 with an incoming call from "Daddy."
  • Bedazzled lady playing Bedazzled.
  • Woman urgently speaking Spanish into a white Nokia with gold trim.
  • Girl on an HTC, reading Gawker, followed by "A Farmer's Market, Deep in China."

You could also just read a book.

But then you're not even thinking about looking at your phone. You're looking at your Kindle.


This is what I do, anyway—how do you kill time phone-free?

Opening photo: Four guys who really know how to look at phones. From left: Jesus Diaz, Matt Buchanan, Sam Biddle, and Matt Hardigree. Shot by John Mahoney.