By Clifton Leaf
November 17, 2017

It was a twitch. I reached for my inside jacket pocket but my phone wasn’t there. And then my hand twitched—sort of. A flinch, kind of—but hard to describe. Moments later, I reached for my back pants pocket. No phone. I must have reached for an empty pocket a dozen more times—walking out of my home this morning, en route to the subway, on the subway platform, on the subway, on the walk to the office. But the strangest part is, I knew my phone wasn’t in any of these pockets. It was in my brother-in-law’s car.

Last night, I discovered I am addicted to my smartphone. I mean, really addicted.

After gathering in Queens, New York, for a birthday celebration, my brother-in-law dropped me off at the subway. It was late. The second I walked through the turnstile I realized I’d left my phone charging in his car. There was no way to reach him.

I can’t remember the last time I rode the subway without reading news, or emails, or grazing through Twitter on my phone. Last night, for close to 90 minutes on two subway trains, I found myself feeling rudderless. Sitting on the train, I discovered I no longer knew where to look. Without a phone in my hand, I read every subway ad, stared at the floor, the ceiling, the opening and shutting doors.

When I finally got home, I couldn’t sleep. Not without the last glance at email and Twitter before bedtime. I tossed and turned. It was like going through the DTs. My phone had become an extension of me, and now it was a phantom limb.

I had no idea until last night how much I’d relied on this limb. As I waited on the subway platform, I reached for my phantom appendage to call an Uber. (No phone, no Uber.) I couldn’t text my wife and let her know where I was. I couldn’t listen to music or a podcast. No phone. When I opened my laptop to check my email, I realized only then that I didn’t have the randomly generated 6-digit password I needed to access the network. The app is on my phone.­ I suspected I had a conference call scheduled early this morning—or was I supposed to be somewhere for a meeting? I couldn’t check my calendar. Again—it was on my phone.

This morning, at the office, when I thought to call my brother-in-law and arrange to retrieve my phone, I couldn’t. His phone number is on my phone. I don’t think I’ve remembered a phone number in years. I haven’t had to.

The magnitude of my phone’s apparent power over me is a startling revelation. I tell myself now that I have do something about it—to wean myself off of this insidious addiction. And I will. As soon as I get my phone back.

Does anyone know my brother-in-law’s number?

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.


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