An unhealthy relationship with technology can mean missed opportunities to connect with the real world. That’s why I wrote a book of 5,203 alternatives to looking at your phone.

© Johner Images/Getty Images
Johner Images/Getty Images

  • Barbara Ann Kipfer is a lexicographer, archaeologist, and author of more than 80 books and calendars, including “14,000 Things to be Happy About.”
  • The following is an adapted excerpt from her new book, “5,203 Things to Do Instead of Looking at Your Phone.”
  • In it, she suggests strike a balance between your online and offline lives with alternative ways to reconnect with the world around you.  
  • Kipfer uses her expertise to help people examine why they’re mindlessly motivated to reach for screens, and how to restore a healthy relationship with activities that fill up your downtime.  
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I’m a listmaker. I’ve published 80+ books and calendars — mainly lists.  My editor came up with the idea of a list styled book with suggestions on what to do “instead of looking at your phone.” This brilliant focus resonated with me immediately.

© Courtesy of Workman Publishing
“5,203 Things To Do Instead of Looking at Your Phone,” by Barbara Ann Kipfer. Courtesy of Workman Publishing

“5,203 Things to Do Instead of Looking at Your Phone” is about ways to get off the infinite Internet bus, ways to stop the endless search, offline ways to be happy, and things to do without a screen.

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The book aims to help people examine why they reach for screens: boredom, restlessness, news gathering, desire for comparing/contrasting, curiosity, nosiness, to be idly entertained, compulsion, habit.

And the book suggests the alternatives: to create, do, experience, interact, sense (see, hear, smell), and think.

So, the main concept is to restore balance in one’s life.

I am taking the stance that people need to step away from the screens, be more mindful, put some more effort and thought into things, reconnect with the living world, and in general slow down the rate that they do and expect things. This book is about alternatives to picking up or turning on something as mindless entertainment or to fill a gap in time or an uncomfortable silence.

I’m not a technophobe — I’ve been using a computer since 1975, when I was a sportswriter.

While I was an early adopter of that technology, I also recognize that all computers can do is remind us of what is in the world. Now with computers and microelectronics, we’re allowing the artificial universe to become completely portable — they can be carried in our pockets, worn on our wrists, and inside our ears with earphones, earbuds, and even our eyes with virtual reality headsets.

In short, we’re being offered a view of the life completely devoid of being in the world we see and hear. It leads to anxiety over the sense that something is missing. Living much of the day immersed in this artificial environment doing work, schoolwork, or seeking entertainment is unhealthy.

Screens can’t bring us the world, only images and sounds taken from it.

Without contact offline, we live a life in exile from it. So, the motivation for writing this book is to help people like myself get up, get moving, get balanced, and get happy about non-computer activities. And that’s not impossible!

The majority of adults over the age of about 25 remember the world before the current intense connection to computers and, especially, the Internet. Many childhoods were filled with puddle splashing, awesome thunderstorms, and traveling with the wind blowing passed car window. Let’s bring that back! 

Though the entries are wildly different from those in “14,000 Things to be Happy About,” the way of using the books is the same. In the first, the book doesn’t actually tell the reader what to be happy about — readers open to a page and ideas jump out at them that they feel happy about. “5,203 Things to Do Instead of Looking at Your Phone” doesn’t tell readers what they should be doing — it gives them ideas for activities to get excited or enthused about doing.

“5,203 Things To Do Instead of Looking at Your Phone” by Barbara Ann Kipfer. Workman Publishing ©2020

Barbara Ann Kipfer is the author of “14,000 Things to Be Happy About” (with 1.25 million copies in print). She has written 80 other books and calendars spanning a wide variety of themes and subjects, including thesauri and dictionaries, trivia and question books, archaeology reference, and happiness and spiritually.

© Barbara Ann Kipfer
Barbara Ann Kipfer. Barbara Ann Kipfer

Kipfer holds an MPhil and PhD in linguistics, a PhD in archaeology, an MA and PhD in Buddhist studies, and a BS in physical education. She is a registered professional archaeologist; senior lexicographer of Zeta Global; and has worked for Google,,,, General Electric Research, IBM Research, and The Chicago Tribune as a sportswriter and editor.

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