Photo: Courtesy of Scribner.
"Dad, I'm in an interview. I can't talk right now."
Kim Stolz, who first gained fame on cycle five of America's Next Top Model and later as an MTV host, is sitting opposite me at an Upper East Side coffee shop, talking to her dad on the phone.
"Is he seriously trying to FaceTime me right now?" she says, hanging up. "He's going around to all the Barnes & Nobles to make sure they have my book out."
"Maybe he's just trying to be Mayor of all of them," I suggest, making a (terrible) joke based on Stolz's new book, Unfriending My Ex, where she details her week of ditching all things digital. She also includes a story about how her father, upon discovering FourSquare, became temporarily obsessed with checking in and achieving mayorship of his favorite spots. Now, moments into our discussion of her book, Stolz is already showing how attached she is to her iPhone — an addiction she says came in stages.
"I think one of the first times I realized it was when I asked to have dinner with a friend, or I’d say, 'Okay, let’s go grab drinks,' the response almost always from them became, 'Fine, but I get to hold your phone the whole time.' So, I started realizing that, like any addiction, the people around you are your first cue that you have a problem," says Stolz. A week away from the Internet, TV, and iPhone may not feel drastic — especially when compared to the months Stolz spent doing this very thing in the ANTM house. But, her time on the reality show was before the advent of smartphones — as well as before her digital addiction. And, the unplug took a toll on her.
"The first couple of days, I was so incredibly antsy and sometimes I was almost shaking because I was so anxious about not being able to check my phone," she says. "I saw my phone on the couch, even though it wasn’t there. I saw blinking light messages, but there was no phone." Anyone who's gone through the phantom vibrate syndrome knows exactly what she's talking about.
After a few days, though, Stolz began to see more clearly: "I calmed down, started absorbing the world around me, saw things on my street that I had never seen before because my face had always been down on my phone. I had real conversations with genuine emotions with friends over the phone [she installed a landline] or in person." She also felt more in touch with who she was as a person. "Introspection was no longer dead, self-reflection had come alive, and I hadn’t had that in years, because any time I had a moment alone, I was checking my phone," she says.
Photo: Courtesy of Robin Roemer.
Though her alone time had become more meaningful — and arguably, more alone — Stolz began to feel left out upon her return to social media. "There’s this emerging body of research that talks about Facebook loneliness, how this interconnectedness is actually making us feel more disconnected from each other. I really believe in that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled through my Instagram and seen that all of my friends had been hanging out the night before or hanging out with my exes, sending me into this terrible wave of insecurity and sadness and anxiety. Then I text them all like, 'What did you do last night?' like a psycho." This is where I mention FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out — and how it's all but taken over our lives. "I do believe being constantly connected to each other and being privy to everyone’s lives and everyone’s nights and everyone’s experiences makes us certainly more lonely," she says.
Of course, Stolz's problem isn't specific to her. In many ways, she's the quintessential millennial. As she explains, millennials have "career ADD." Her transition from reality star to MTV host to VP at Citigroup certainly fits that stereotype. But, she, like many her age, also exists in a state of limbo. This gray area is one where we feel a responsibility to preserve outdated practices (like using a payphone) for the sake of nostalgia. "I think there's something about our generation — that our parents have the same job for 30 years and grew up without all this stuff — and then the generation younger than us, all they know is digital," she says. "I remember going to a pay phone to call someone to say I was going to be late, I remember having to be loyal in relationships and not being able to go back to my social media and stalk my exes. But, I also remember when it started going away, when it started being taking over by my impulses and my addiction to social media and smartphones."
Sure, Stolz still admits to being attached at the hip to her phone, but she doesn't embrace all the trends and byproducts that come with the technology. Namely, she hates selfies. "They represent the growing narcissism in our society that's really come about because of social media," she says. "I’ve made a rule for myself that I don’t like any selfies. I just think they represent exactly what’s wrong with us." To her, selfies are an ego stroke millennials can't help but make. Separating herself from this behavior — even for just a week — opened her eyes to that. "I learned about communication, I learned about what I need to do to feel better. I didn’t have a crutch anymore, so I had to actually relearn in myself how to handle negative emotions. When you spend alone time, you start getting to know yourself better, you start liking yourself more, you become more secure. Without that, we’re all relatively insecure people, hoping to get more 'likes.'"