My hand hurts, cramped from flexing my wrist at an unnatural angle to master the F-major barre chord in Tequila Sunrise. A barre chord is when one finger frets, or lies across, all six guitar strings. My fretting thumb slides back awkwardly in an attempt to curl around the thick neck of my guitar. The string buzzes, screeches. I can easily barre the first two strings to hit an F at the higher octave, but my teacher Steve is a real cheerleader for the full barre.
F-major can F-itself, I think violently. I set down my instrument, glare up at the poster of Carlos Santana. He looks smug, a master of barre chords, no doubt.
“Why do I need the stupid bass note again?” I ask through gritted teeth.
“A bass note is a lower frequency, which means it lasts longer than higher frequency notes. So even when your ears no longer register it, your body does. That’s how bass creates a harmonic foundation. Without bass, you miss the melody. Without bass notes, you’ll never be in rhythm”.
A week or so later, I am listening to Robcast, a podcast hosted by pastor Rob Bell when he starts talking about, of all things, bass notes.
“We are craving bass notes right now. The treble is the squeakier, higher frequency note, and then there’s the bass note. And something about modern culture, and the way the Internet has worked on us… blips and squeaks are coming at us faster than ever… this TMZing of our world, it’s sped everything up so that everything is happening right here in this moment. It can easily disconnect you from things that are older than five minutes. Life can become all treble, no bass.”
I crave a life of bass notes. But like everyone else these days, digital distraction has become my norm. I want to use my phone to elevate my life, but often fear it’s replacing it.
My screen addiction came to light when I fell into a scroll hole while on the toilet. I started watching a video about an interspecies friendship between a cat and a baby owl, which segued into reading about this hotel in Belize that is built out into the water with glass floors so that you can watch fish swim under you while you sip a cocktail. Then… I lost time, clicking this and liking that, hypnotized by the pixels. I was in the middle of buying some new denim from Zappos when my husband knocked, asking if I was ok. How long had I been in there? Almost an hour.
You guys. I was in a scroll hole for almost an hour. On the toilet.
This is not healthy behavior. I pulled up my pants, ashamed and frightened by my digital dependency.
The root cause of digital addiction is dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that is secreted every time we receive a text, email or social media like. It’s a reward chemical, a tiny pleasure hit that tells us we have value. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that dopamine plays an important part in making nicotine, cocaine and gambling so addictive.
Ever heard of the Skinner Box? Famed psychologist B.F. Skinner found that the strongest way to create a habit in rats is to reward them with chemical hits on a random schedule. In a nutshell, that’s what social media does. We end up compulsively checking the site because we never know when the rush of social affirmation will hit. The randomness keeps us checking and the dopamine keeps us coming back. The apps are intentionally designed this way to addict us. And it’s working. Recent studies indicate most of us spend over half of our waking minutes staring into a screen.
If I am to cultivate more bass notes in my life, I have to close a few tabs in my mind. So I’m taking a deliberate digital detox for the next 10 days.
It seems like a perfect opportunity to disconnect and reconnect to the callings of my soul. To write and hike and puzzle and lie on a yoga mat. To stare at the stars, at the ceiling, at the faces of the people I love. To reclaim boredom as a natural state of being. To talk to people over a table instead of over a satellite connection. To balance my treble with more bass.
Many hours of practice later and I am still a great distance away from mastering the barre chord. But I will keep practicing, because, without bass notes, I’ll never be in rhythm. Plus, I’ve got more time on my hands these days.