Microprocessing

Men Won’t Let Go of Their Phones While Peeing

Maybe they’re bored. Maybe they’re anxious. Maybe it’s both.

Angela Lashbrook
Published in
6 min readNov 6, 2019

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Illustration: Brennon Leman

BBathroom reading is a sacred, time-honored tradition. Toilet-side literary entertainment has been a mainstay in homes for thousands of years: The ancient Romans kept libraries in their communal baths, and in the 18th century, Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, wrote that someone he knew was “so good a manager of his time that he would not even lose that small portion of it which the call of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments.” (I highly recommend this excellent 2006 piece in the New York Times about the history of bathroom reading — you know where you can read it.)

Today, the phenomenon has broadened to include not only the more time-consuming activity of pooping, but also the swift chore that is pissing at a urinal. Having never used a urinal myself, I do not have firsthand knowledge of the behavior, but male sources have informed me that staring into a glowing screen while standing at one is a growing trend.

“I have a nervous bladder.”

But a number-one is, of course, quicker than a number-two. Peeing takes 21 seconds, on average, for all mammals, from an elephant to a mouse. That’s barely enough time to read an entire email, let alone respond to a text message, theoretically one-handed. So what compels these dudes to whip out their iPhones before doing their business?

Anxiety, as it turns out, is a big reason.

This is the case for Travis, a Las Vegas-based video editor who requested only his first name be used because of the sensitivity of the topic. “I have really bad public restroom anxiety, so sometimes I have to do this to redirect my brain and trick it into letting me pee when there are other people around,” he says. “It is usually pretty effective, especially if there are other things going on in the restroom, too. It’s not like a magic cure, but it definitely assists.”

“I have a nervous bladder. Reddit/my phone provides the perfect distraction to help me go a little more quickly,” wrote one reddit user in a thread dedicated…

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Angela Lashbrook
OneZero

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.