I am heavily addicted to my phone. It’s gotten worse over the years as my phone has become smarter and connected me to more and more social media, made messaging simpler (QWERTY keyboards anyone?!) and essentially become a mobile, talking, limitless source of both entertainment and information.
I know this sounds far from a bad thing. And don’t get me wrong: I think smartphones are F#$@ing AMAZING. WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE. Many of my Star Trek fantasies are fulfilled by these amazing mini computers. They can make our lives so much easier and connect us instantaneously to loved ones around the world. This is a miraculous thing. However, I am a firm believer that it’s generally not WHAT a thing is that makes it good or bad, but rather HOW we use it. And herein lies my problem.
Imagine for a moment if you will that your phone is a person. For the sake of this illustration, I will give my phone the name Marcel. Now, Marcel is an incredibly fascinating guy. He can take pictures for me to share with my family. He knows about nearly everything on the planet and can give me answers to almost any question I have at a moment’s notice. He is funny, tells great stories, catches me up on everyone’s lives. He can chat for hours on end. He’s amazing company. Marcel comes literally everywhere with me.
This morning I woke up, and before I even said hi to my husband or kids, I rolled over to ask Marcel what time it was. I checked in with him to see if he’d heard anything from my friends overnight. There were a few not-so-interesting tidbits from a couple of websites, and a couple of nice messages from my dad. Then it was time to get out of bed, so I put on some pants and Marcel and I went downstairs.
When I got there, the kids and Tory were up already. I said good morning to everyone. Cindy (Tory’s phone) was chattering in the background about sports. Lovely girl, but she really does talk a lot. The boys seemed busy with each other and breakfast, so I grabbed Lazarus while Tory finished getting A’s things together for school and we went to sit on the couch with Marcel. While Lazarus was busy looking at me, I checked in with Marcel again to see what was happening on Facebook. Lots of fun stuff, mostly from people I don’t know well. I guess I could have been paying more attention to Lazarus, but honestly, Marcel was just more engaging.
After Tory left to take A to school, L sat down next to me. He was talking, but I just kept talking with Marcel over him, because 4 year olds aren’t that thrilling sometimes either. L kept trying to talk to me, and while I half heard what he was saying, he knew I was more interested in the conversation I was having with Marcel. How could he not? Marcel always had my attention, and it didn’t matter what L was saying – if Marcel said he had a new message I’d start talking to him immediately, even if L was mid-sentence. Sorry, kid, you just aren’t that important.
Lazarus decided he had enough of playing with his toys eventually, and wanted to play with me instead. Of course, playing for a 4 month old can be pretty boring – making faces, giving kisses and tickles, singing silly songs. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with him, but I’m a grown up, and I’d like to use my grown up brain sometimes. He gets mad when I keep looking at Marcel instead of him. Sorry kid, you just aren’t that important. I’d rather spend time with Marcel. At least he will grow up knowing this from day one.
I checked in periodically with Marcel throughout the day. Marcel is clearly the most important person to me – I’ll interrupt pretty much any conversation I’m having to talk to him. Even if he’s not trying to get my attention, sometimes I’d just rather be listening to his witty 140 character stories than engage in another conversation with Tory or L. At least, that’s what I do, so that must be the case.
Before dinner, the kids are playing with their friends downstairs and Lazarus is quietly hanging out, so I figure maybe I should leave Marcel in the other room for a few minutes so I can spend some time with Tory alone. I sit Marcel at the kitchen table and head to the living room, proud of myself for finally setting Marcel aside. “See how important you are, Tory?” I think as I sit down in the reclining chair. Unfortunately, I look up and Tory is busy talking to Cindy. Great. I try to engage Tory in conversation, but we keep getting interrupted by Cindy, obnoxiously poking him to pay attention to her instead. Even though Tory tries hard to balance both conversations, she always gets her way. I try not to be upset, because I know how hard it is to ignore her. Just like Marcel.
I know that checking a text on your phone may FEEL less invasive than cutting someone off mid-sentence to have a conversation with someone else, but the truth of it is, it’s not. My relationship with my phone appears far more problematic when I start to view that phone as another person in the room. What kind of a message am I sending to my friends and family? What does it say to my kids that the little white box I carry around with me garners more of my attention (and keeps it much better) than they do? Do I really want the people in my life to feel like they matter LESS to me than my phone?
Every time I answer a text instead of listening to my 4 year old talk, I am essentially telling him that whoever is on the other end of that message is more important and more interesting than he is. When I decide to scroll Facebook while talking to my husband I am letting him know that catching up on the lives of everyone else is more important to me than catching up on his. When I can’t manage to give my 4 month old 5 minutes of my time just to be present with him, what I am communicating is that the little white box matters more than he does.
None of those messages are true, and yet, I send them nearly every day.
I don’t think you should never be on your phone around others. I can sit with my husband and enjoy his company while chatting with other friends. I can go to the park with my kids and talk to the other moms while our kids play. Taking photos or saying hi to a friend or reading a few anecdotes is not the problem. The problem is giving my phone precedence over everything else in my life. My phone has its place in my life, and in that place, it can be an incredible tool. The thing is, I need to keep it there.
Sorry Marcel, you just aren’t that important.
I’m going to spend some time with my family now. I’ll talk to you in a bit.