Mothers, wives, workers, women … do you feel guilty when you spend time on your phone? You shouldn’t. Here’s why.
Picture a woman. She’s walking her dog in the park. She kicks a ball for her dog every so often, but she’s more focused on the person she’s talking to over the phone clamped to her ear.
Picture another woman. She’s sitting at the edge of a playground. Her two children are playing on the jungle gym. She’s not watching them very closely, because she’s typing something on her phone.
Another woman, a younger one. She’s standing with a group of friends at the mall. They’re chatting, but she’s focused on her phone’s screen, rapidly texting something to someone.
Our last woman. She’s out for breakfast with her husband. He’s on his iPad, she’s on her phone. They’re both distractedly eating toast while they’re caught up in their digital worlds. They’re certainly not talking to each other.
We judge these women, don’t we?
“She’s not enjoying her surroundings.”
“She’s not giving her children the attention they deserve.”
“She’s so caught up in talking to her friends on her phone, that she’s missing out on spending time with her real friends standing right next to her.”
“Their relationship is doomed; they’d rather be somewhere in cyberspace than chatting to each other over breakfast.”
Take away the phone
Now let’s take the same scenarios, but make a small change in each. The woman in the park is deeply involved in a conversation with her friend while she walks her dog. The woman at the playground is reading a book, and glances up every now often to check on her kids. The girl at the mall excuses herself from her group of friends to greet another friend that’s walking past. And the woman and her husband at breakfast have divided up the sections of the Sunday paper and are taking turns to read them.
We don’t judge any of these women, do we? But essentially, they’re doing all the same things as the women with the phones.
Now, I’m not for a second saying that we, as a society, don’t have a digital problem. I have been driven to distraction by friends spending more time on their phones than with me over lunch. I am frequently implored by my husband to “spend time with *us*!” And I worry about how my children — my son in particular — are going to find reality-digitality balance, growing up in the world we live in.
As a result, every time I pick up my phone to Tweet, to Facebook, to send a message or to call my mom, I feel guilty. I feel that I am distracted from All The Other Stuff I should be paying attention to. I feel that I am feeding a sick obsession, and I should just throw the thing in the bin (while also resenting all the other people making demands of me and keeping me away from my toy).
A good thing, too
Then recently, two things made me think slightly differently. The first was that my daughter asked me to sit with her while she watched her allotted hour of weekend television. I sat with her, but read my Kindle and felt no guilt. If I’d been using my phone, I would have done it surreptitiously and felt bad about it. But the Kindle was fine.
The second thing was that last week, I was recovering from (minor, unglamorous) sinus surgery, and I sat in bed with my phone and read articles and updated Facebook and connected with friends, and I had a wonderful, positive, mind-expanding time.
These two experiences have made me adjust my thinking a little. Yes, I need to watch my obsession with all things digital. Of course, it’s important to enjoy real-world things and company. But every interaction with a cellphone is not a bad thing, and every person that I love does not deserve my eternal, undivided attention.
Phones are just conduits to all kinds of things we used to do in different ways before, and nobody used to expect us not to read or chat to friends or take a work call.
Here, instead are my rules of cellphone engagement:
• I put it away when I’m officially spending time with someone else. It’s never out at the dinner table or at a restaurant, unless I’m using Google to settle an argument.
• I try not to do that thing — the thing where you swipe down repeatedly hoping for a Facebook/Twitter/email update. Unless I’m in a boring queue. Then I can do that thing.
• If I need the phone near me because I’m expecting a call or waiting on an urgent email, I let the people I’m with know, and I respond only to that specific intrusion.
• I put it away when I come home from work. That’s my kids’ time, and I want them to see that people can exist without phones at the end of their arms.
• I put it away when I’m playing with them. If I’m actively engaging with them, I want them to have my full attention.
• I can use it if I’m present but not actively playing with my kids, or if I’m supervising from a distance.
• And now, given my recent revelation, I am also teaching my kids (and my husband) that if I am busy on the phone for whatever reason, they can also wait until I’m done.
I don’t always stick to all of these rules religiously, but I try and it’s not hard.
These might be the rambling delusions and denials of an addict, but I think they’re the healthy negotiations required for coexisting with technology.
What do you think?
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Image – AFP