Why You Should Keep Your Smartphone in Your Pocket at the Checkout Line

The self-checkout lines at Wal-Mart are closed today for some reason. And they’ve only got a couple lanes open on a busy Saturday morning. I’ve no idea why the man behind Wal-Mart has decided to mess my morning over like this. I position myself behind an elderly lady who will likely take a solid twenty minutes just to unload her butter, cat food, and a bunch of unrecognizable products that I’ll probably understand more in about twenty years.

This is going to be awhile.

Rather than getting bored and letting this time flit away, I do as I’ve trained myself to do. I pull out my phone and decide to take captive a few moments. I skim read through a couple of articles online, check some email, and respond to a few comments on social media.

I’m doing this because over a decade ago I was captivated by the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. As I’m taking captive a few moments in the check out line, I know that what I’m doing is following Edwards’ resolution #5. “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” Rather than wasting my time by just standing in line like a big dumb ox, I’m getting stuff done.

And I’m likely destroying my brain and my ability to actually get stuff done.

I became convinced of the damage I’m doing by so quickly grabbing my smart phone when I read Deep Work by Cal Newport. Summarizing much research, Newport says:

Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a  restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the ‘mental wrecks’ in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration. (Deep Work, 158)

This is no fault of Edwards. He didn’t have a smartphone. His idea of “improving the time” was likely quite different than mine. I’m not sure if Edwards would have thought to value a bit of boredom, but I believe we should. There is something beneficial about slowing down and just standing in check-out line while everybody else is on their smart phones. I’m slowing my brain down and preparing it for moments of deeper work later.

Resolved, to keep my smartphone in my pocket, let the emails wait, and indulge in a bit of boredom for the sake of more productive work later…

Photo source: here


  1. Being a senior citizen and having spanned many years of different phones, I have a perspective on this. I have gone from watching my grandmother use a wall box phone with a hand receiver, to watching people use smart phones. I refuse to let a smart phone captivate my life. Life is too precious to friviousley pay more attention to a smart phone than to see what’s going on in the world around me. All I need is a communication device with phone numbers. If people think I am weird or behind the times, for using a flip phone, I don’t care. Young people are losing their ability to communicate face to face with each other or with anyone else. They don’t know how to talk face to face with other people, all they know is text, tweet or instagram. HR managers are disgusted with how younger people know nothing about how to have a face to face meeting with a prospective employer. It is shocking how many minutes are spent each day by young people looking at their smart phones. They are killing people on the highways having accidents at alarming rates by texting. I won’t be around to see how these young people turn out, I can only pray that they find a cure to this addiction soon.

  2. I’m at computer screens all day with my job. Then I go home and engage with intellectual development on computer screens. I often don’t get as much done as I would like there because I like to get up and go through the house and engage with my family. The kids are getting old enough to leave the house and the days are precious few with them.

    In the checkout line I watch people. Fallen people: some saved, some not. What kind of brokenness are they dealing with? What kind of blessings has God delivered to them today that they may not even know about?

    My favorite recreational activity is to hike. I bring my phone to record my path – otherwise, I don’t touch it, even to listen to music (most trails don’t have a great cell coverage anyway). My attention needs to be on my surroundings, and I love it.

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