Put it down, please.
I always said my kid wouldn’t do that.
I swore up and down that my kid wouldn’t be the one with his face buried in a screen. No phones at meal time (ever), no TV until age 2 (and even then, very limited exposure), no toys that resemble phones or tablets, no phone of his own until he was at least 12.
Our 19-month-old son–who is learning words and colors and animal sounds and trying to make sense of the world around him–can scroll through YouTube videos and choose his favorites like it’s his job. He navigates the selections with alarming ease, flipping through Elmo and Old MacDonald before deciding Itsy Bitsy Spider better suits his mood. He gets visibly agitated when we ignore his requests for the phone or the iPad, and sometimes he won’t eat unless there’s a phone in front of him.
My mom and mother-in-law are the only other people who watch him besides my husband and I. My mom barely knows how to turn her cell phone on (sorry, Mom! 🙂 ) and my mother-in-law doesn’t use hers. Guess I know how our son honed his skills.
It hit me with crushing realization the other day, when I took him to my mom’s work to surprise her for lunch. She’s waitress, and as I attempted to get AJ to eat, a man sat at the bar, beer in hand, face buried in his laptop. He put it away and started scrolling through his phone.
AJ saw it and wanted mine. Desperate to get him to eat, I propped it up on a glass and let him watch YouTube. The man turned at the sound, and I apologized, explaining that I always said I’d never do this. We talked about some of the weird stuff that’s on YouTube, even for children, and jokingly wondered if the government was tossing some propaganda in with the alphabet song.
“That’s why they call it ‘programming,'” he said with a laugh, an off-handed comment meant to be funny. I instantly tensed. Holy crap, I thought. He’s right.
Don’t get me wrong. Phones and technology are amazing. The customers on the other end of my text messages and emails have blessed my family a million times over…financially, emotionally and physically, with orders, support, prayers, gifts, food and cards. Technology shared our story after Ashlie entered the world without a sound, and within hours of my husband’s first heartbreaking phone call to a friend, there was a meal train and a Gofundme spreading across the nation on our behalf.
Social media has been instrumental in helping our nonprofit organization, Ashlie’s Embrace, reach people in states where we don’t know a soul. It helped us document the journey of welcoming AJ into the world, where we openly and honestly shared our fears and joys as we waited for his arrival. It’s given me a platform to write again. I am truly grateful for the power of technology, as it has enriched my life in a number of ways.
When used properly and at the right time, it can be fantastic. But wow, can it be tricky. I know this because I’ve fallen into its trap a number of times. And so have the people around me. I’ll go out on a limb and say we’ve all been there…on the receiving and the giving end of the pitfalls of 24/7 connectedness.
I check five email accounts and three Facebook accounts multiple times a day. I have a phone for Ashlie’s Embrace, a personal phone and a Mary Kay line tied to my personal phone. I spend more time scrolling Facebook than I care to admit. As I type this, I’m watching my phone light up with text messages. Every time it glows, I lose my train of thought. Why wouldn’t I just turn it off or turn it over? I can’t do that! WHAT IF I MISS SOMETHING?!
Part of my job is to train. I sometimes spend hours preparing for a meeting. I research facts, gather my thoughts, seek out anecdotes and think of real-life application tips. I take time from my family and other responsibilities to make sure my team is prepared. I love what I do, and I eagerly and freely share my wisdom with others. But it’s frustrating when some will text right through it. They think I don’t notice, but you can’t miss a bowed head and hands that should probably be taking notes but aren’t.
Many a night, my husband and I, who rarely see each other as it is, sit on opposite ends of the living room after AJ has gone to bed, both of us on our phones.
“Whatcha doin’?” I ask, without looking up.
“Playing my game,” he responds, without looking up.
…. Really? I know. I can hear you saying it. Don’t worry, I’m rolling my eyes at myself. It’s not that we don’t love each other, or that we don’t have anything to say. We’re “unwinding.” I remember preparing for our one-year anniversary cruise in 2007. What was I most looking forward to? My husband’s phone being off because we weren’t paying for international roaming. I couldn’t wait to just be with HIM instead of him and his phone. Our phones are just…there. All the time. Every day. Big moments, small moments. Interrupting meals and real-life conversations. Distracting us left and right.
I’m guilty…and addicted. I admit it. During date night, I’ve pulled out my phone when Tony leaves to use the restroom. Why would I sit and just wait? I’ve put my phone upside down on the table when I’m out with a friend. We all know that basically means, “You’re important until this vibrates.” I’ve laid in bed at night playing Candy Crush, flashing lights blazing while those stupid candies fall, messing with my circadian rhythm. No wonder I’m tired all the time. I’ve scrolled Facebook and looked at other people’s children while mine grows up on the other side of the screen.
My nowyear’s resolution (which means I’m not waiting until Jan. 1) is to be in the moment. To give technology its turn, but when I decide, not when it decides. To respect its power but not succumb to it. To use it to capture memories, not miss memories. To set a better example for my son and to put my family before my phone. Work can wait, the weather can wait. Even breaking news can wait. If you’re with me and my phone is out to scroll, kick me. We’ll get through this together.