We were at a local diner waiting for our food to arrive. “Every time I go out to eat,” says my father as he looks around the restaurant; “people are staring at their phones.”
I of course, was staring at mine when he said it, my daughter playing a game on hers.
What am I doing? I quickly tuck my phone away in my purse. “Yea, Dad,” I say, “for me, it’s a time filler, if I’m waiting on the kids, waiting in line, waiting for my meal, I can look at the weather, catch up on email or check the news.” Yet, inside I wince at my own words. I was at lunch. With my Dad. No filler required.
My father, who’ll be 75 in a month, doesn’t and likely never will own a smart phone. I think for a minute what life must be like for him. What’s it like to watch those around you become absorbed in technology you have never used? Smart phones. Ipads. E-readers. Social Media. Technology has changed the way we live, the way we interact.
Our lunch arrives. Our conversation halts as we each dig into our food. As I work my way through my grilled ham and cheese, I consider life without a smart phone. I can’t fathom living without it. Can’t imagine not being able to text my husband, check restaurant reviews on the spot, or figure out how I’d get anywhere without Google maps.
I didn’t used to be this way. In fact, I was one of the last to succumb to owning a cell phone. And I only got it as a safety measure once we moved out of state. At the time I had two small kids and an eleven-year-old sedan; having a cell phone was just smart.
For years I used that same phone. I had the cheapest plan with 60 “free” minutes a month. No one called me because I never gave out my number. But when the iPhone came out, my husband surprised me with one for my birthday. It was sleek, cool, and capable of so many things! In essence, there was no turning back.
But sometimes I’d like to.
I’d like to go to the movies without hearing a ping or seeing a flash or feeling a vibration in my pocket. I’d like to sit down to work without getting distracted every time my phone lights up with a Facebook update. I’d like to go on vacation and just leave my phone at home. Because lately I’ve been feeling like one of Pavlov’s dogs.
I know, I know: I’m in control. I can silence my phone. Put it away. Leave it at home when I go to the movies. Sometimes, like that day I had lunch with my dad, I do put it away. But the more I use it, the more I’m tempted by what my phone has to offer me. I want it with me. Perhaps, I am not in control.
I’ve just started reading a great book, called The In-Between by Jeff Goins. And I’ll be honest; when I heard about it, I wasn’t so interested. I’ve familiar with Goins and believe him to be a great writer. But this book is about savoring the mundane moments in life, the small moments in-between the great ones. And I do that pretty well. At least I thought I did.
But after that lunch, I came home to find an email where Goins was offering a free download of his book. I was curious, and took the bait. So Monday evening, I grabbed my iPad, sat down on the couch and settled in for a good read.
And I learned a little something. The book is about so much more than appreciating the little things. It’s really about living in the present. Appreciating the present. If we’re rushing off to the next big thing in life, we aren’t paying attention to what is right in front of us. The big things in life-college, weddings, babies, promotions, retirement-these moments are few and far between.
But most of life is about little moments. A quick breakfast with your husband. Driving your teen to the orthodontist. Watching The Amazing Race and sharing a bowl of popcorn with your kid. And these little moments can be really cool, if you are present for them. But if you aren’t, well then you’re missing out. Hmmm…
I look up from the book and notice our TV is on. No one in the room is watching it. My husband is engrossed in an electronic form of Suduku. My eleven-year-old is simultaneously playing a game on her iTouch and gobbling down Cheese-Its. We are three in a room, but we are not together. We are missing this very moment.
Not every night is like this. We have plenty of family time at our house, lots of conversation around the dinner table, evenings watching Bones or The Middle together. But if I’m honest, we’re a family on the brink.
On the brink of falling into really bad (and addictive) habits. On the brink of becoming a little more detached from each other. On the brink of wasting our time on our personal devices instead of using our moments to connect with one another. Ugh.
My father is right: go anywhere and everyone is staring at their phone. Checking email. Checking Facebook. Checking Twitter updates. Maybe, my family is not so unusual. Maybe we’re a world on the brink.
I don’t want to do this; I don’t want to be this. I want to be present for the ordinary in my life. I want to unplug and absorb whatever it is that is happening around me.
And so I remind myself of this: I am in control. I can put my phone away, turn my computer off, and be present in what is happening around me. I just have to be willing, make a conscious effort to do so. And be disciplined about it.
And I will. But maybe I’ll do it until after I finish Goins’ book! 🙂 After all, technology isn’t all bad…
I found myself nodding my head in acknowledgement throughout this entire post. Very well written Tracy! I cannot tell you how many times I have been out and about, observing humankind staring at their electronic devices more than the people and world around them. And I quietly chastise them for being so oblivious to what they are missing. Then, I realize how hypocritical it is to even entertain those thoughts when I find myself in the same situation more times than I care to remember. I think there is one sentence that captures the essence of humanity today. We are a world on the brink. As technology becomes the mainstay in our society, we will have no reminders left of what the world used to be. And we will have a choice, to embrace technology and have it become our entire life, to shun it away and live as we did in the age of no technology. Hopefully, it will be somewhere in the middle, a happy medium. After all, you wouldn’t have learned about all this great information if you weren’t able to instantly download an e-book on your iPad. Yeah, technology isn’t all bad, we just have to know when to use it and when to lose it 😉
Great post, thank you for sharing!
Thanks for your comment Dave. There is definitely a before/after technology feel to the world I think. The options we have today, simply weren’t options just a decade ago. I just want to make sure I am conscious of my behavior, I don’t to cross over to the dark side. 😉
This really hits home in today’s world! Like your dad, I also see people looking at their phones everywhere. In the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I chose instead to have a conversation with someone. I do think we are isolating ourselves too much with the new technology instead of interacting with other humans. Of course, I could not send this message without the computer! All technology is not bad, we just have to monitor ourselves and remember to treasure the moments with others.
I completely agree. It seems in this day and age, with so many choices for our attention, we need to make an effort be mindful of how we choose to live. I also think a life lived in the present, where we pay attention to our surroundings is a richer life.