I love my phone. I love how I can ask it any question and it will tell me the answer. I love how it takes pictures of my kids, allows me to get some work done at any given moment, and has the power to connect me to my friends and family wherever I am.
I hate my phone. I hate how I don’t have to think anymore because I can ask it any question and it will tell me the answer. I hate how when I take pictures of my kids, I immediately want to post them to Instagram and then I go on social media and then I’m no longer with my kids. I hate how when I hold my phone, I feel like I should be getting some work done at all times. I hate that anyone can reach me wherever I am and pull me instantly away from the art of living my life.
The struggle is real, and I know we’re all living it. I see us all living it at playgrounds, in cars, in the store, walking across crosswalks, in the movie theater, and during Thanksgiving dinner.
And while most of us still have some awareness, a tug in our hearts that says maybe talking to our friend face-to-face is more important than playing Words With Friends with someone we’ve never met, I have also seen those who have completely given up the struggle. They have succumbed, zombie-like, to the beautiful glow of the screen, with its distractions and cat videos and its promises to shut off their brains for just a few more minutes.
A couple of weeks ago, our daughter was turning 5. She told us that she didn’t want a big party, that she just wanted to swim in a pool and have a Hello Kitty birthday cake. So we quickly packed up our stuff and strapped our kids in the car and went to a hotel before she could change her mind. I could have wept with the gratitude of a million birthday gift bags that I would now not be making.
As we walked down to the lovely heated outdoor pool, I patted my pockets, realizing that I had left my phone up in the room. Oh well, I’ll get some pictures later, I thought, trying to quell that little feeling of anxiety that pops up whenever I’m not physically touching my beloved digital device.
As I sat on the side of the pool and threw pool toys in over and over and watched the kids swim, I began to notice something that completely freaked me out. As a dozen different kids splashed and played in the pool, every single parent around me was staring at the screen of their phone. And it was not just the parents on the side of the pool like me. Even parents who were sitting in the hot tub had set up towels on the concrete edge and were leaning over the towels on their phones.
The most frightening part for me was that if I hadn’t forgotten my phone, I would have been one of those human zombies too. I love my phone. I have argued with people about phone use because I work from my phone, and we all need a break from our kids, and we all need to be able to disconnect. But this was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen: a dozen different parents, completely gorked out on their screens.
The children in the pool were unfazed. They had probably spent their entire summers seeing their parents being gone from the planet. Mine were simply gleeful (and probably confused) with the amount of attention I was paying them. “Again, Mom! Throw the ball again!”
Since they were born, our kids have watched us check out. We are there with them one minute and then completely absent from their worlds the next. It doesn’t even seem strange to them. I’m not writing all of this to make anyone feel bad or add shame or say that being on our phones is bad. And when I see someone on their phone, I don’t judge them because I don’t know what’s happening in their life. I’m writing all of this because I want to wake myself up. I don’t want to be a smartphone zombie anymore.
But I also think that maybe, just maybe, we should forget our phones every once in a while. Cameras exist, right? We used to survive just fine in the world without being able to Google the closest Starbucks, right? Online conversations can wait. Candy Crush can wait. Reading the latest article on Brangelina can wait.
But my kids? My kids are growing so fast that soon they won’t even want me around. Very soon they won’t be begging me to throw them pool toys or watch their handstands or cheer when they do a cannon ball.
I’ve been consciously forgetting my phone on purpose since that day at the pool. I do it when we go to the playground or a soccer game or out to a restaurant. And it’s not like forgetting my phone has made my life all magic and rainbows. The kids fight, we get annoyed with each other, and I find myself reaching in my purse for that beautiful glowing distraction.
But, in the end, I’ve been experiencing more real life. At least it’s real life.