Hey guys, the strangest thing happened to me this week. Strange and wonderful. I know that to many of you this may sound irrational or even heretical. But here it is: I have renounced my smart phone. At least for the time being. Before you rush off to find me a psychiatrist, please let me explain.
It happened last Saturday. The stage was set for me to accomplish a ton of housework in one afternoon. My three year old was down for a rare nap and my one year old was feeling particularly cooperative (or so it seemed.) I laundry-ed, cleaned bathrooms, picked up and vacuumed, tackled the kitchen and then set out to mop. I was feeling a bit on top of the world, because, if you know me well, you know that it’s not every day that my house gets such an extensive spa treatment. I had my iPhone out and I was listening to an audio book as I worked. My little cleaning companion had been busying herself in the kitchen with me, and had dropped a couple scraps of paper into the mop bucket, just to see what would happen to them.
Mid-mop job I looked over at her from across our tiny kitchen and noticed something that stopped me dead in my tracks. She was standing casually with both hands in her floral sweatsuit pockets, grinning her cherubic grin. I was overcome with parental euphoria—you know, that completely saturating feeling and surety that you are looking at the most adorable creature in the universe.
I fumbled around for my phone so I could capture this darling moment before it was gone. “Where is my phone?” I asked myself. I could hear the audiobook narrator clear as day and had sworn I had put it on the kitchen counter. That was when the little cherub started saying “uh-oh” and pointing at the mop bucket.
With grave and anxious anticipation, I approached the bucket, as if approaching a corpse. I solemnly reached my hand into the murky water and immediately felt the familiar shape, the round-edged rectangle of my otter box case. “No, no, no!” I cried. My daughter looked mystified. And immediately I felt like Mr. Parker, the father from “A Christmas Story.” He comes home from work to find his precious “major award,” the iconic leg lamp, has fallen to its death. I recall the scene perfectly. You know the one—
Mr: “You were always jealous of this lamp.”
Mrs: “Jealous of a plastic…?”
Mr: “Jealous! Jealous because I WON.”
I am really not certain if Clara’s act of destruction was out of jealousy or simply experimentation. But I do know this: she has always been jealous of that phone. Not because I won, but because the phone won, time after time after time.
I became aware early on that using my phone around them provoked feelings of jealousy in my children. It first surfaced when my boy was quite young. It is no surprise. Have you ever been around someone that you are very interested in conversing or interacting with who is glued to their phone? It can be incredibly frustrating, even for adults who can so much better understand relationship dynamics. Imagine how difficult it must be for children to figure out their place in the family when they feel they are in constant competition with their touch screen sibling? It is not surprising that there are several studies based around this very phenomenon, and they show that what some scholars refer to as “techno-ference” can be quite damaging to parent/child relationships and can be damaging also to a child’s development.
My son was about the same age that my daughter is now when he threw my iPhone in the toilet. The phone could not be resuscitated. I was surprised at how devastated I felt. How was I going to live fully without that great camera at my fingertips, a calendar that feels like a personal secretary, and a whole world of internet information just one tap away? So after a few weeks on an old standard phone we forked out the change and replaced the iPhone. Ahhh, it felt good to be back to the sleek operating system and the phone that can practically cook your breakfast for you.
However, I continued to feel uncomfortable with several of the faces of my device. I was aware that my usage of it was interfering with my ability to be fully engaged with my kids. So I set boundaries for myself. I tried keeping it on the dresser in my bedroom during the day and only checking it periodically, I turned off all notifications (with the exception of my calendar), I turned off the ringer so I wouldn’t be interrupted. Perhaps for most people, this would be enough to help them keep their phone out of their family relationships. But for me, it wasn’t. You see, the problem wasn’t how much time I was spending on it, or what I was doing on it. It had become a problem of my heart–somehow my phone had managed to embed itself there. I desired it. I wondered about it in the back of my mind when I was “being good” and not using it during active mommy hours. And despite all my best efforts and intentions to be “present” when I was with my family, I disappointed myself.
Often, in exhaustion at the end of the day, I would hop onto my phone and scroll, scroll, scroll. Man, did it feel wretched. But the hold was so powerful. And so sedative. I would sometimes ask my husband to help me out but if he would try to take the phone out of my hands, my Gollum eyes would pop out of my head and all of a sudden I would be stroking the iPhone and crying, “MINE! My preeecccioouussss…” Ok, not really. But looking back, it kind of felt like that. My phone had become Tolkein’s “one ring.” The ring that brought me and bound me. The ring that controlled some aspect of my heart and made me prisoner to it.
On some level I was aware of all of this and I jabbed at the problem without success. I was weak and I wanted it (or thought I wanted it) too bad to do what I knew I needed to do. And so my small, innocent, and helpful daughter had to do it. She carried it to its doom and dropped it in that bucket of murky, unforgiving water.
The day the accident happened was a busy day with two rounds of company coming and all the other weekend busy-ness. I did not have time to do anything besides inter my dead phone in a bowl of dry rice and hope by some miracle it would resurrect. And then something unexpected happened. With the phone resting in peace in its rice-y tomb, I was suddenly free. I felt a weight lifted. I felt my full self again—fully capable of focusing on a person, a moment, a task without that nagging tension in the back of my mind: the siren voices of my inbox, newsfeed, and easy access internet browser.
The day my iPhone died, I plopped it in a bowl of rice, assumed we would replace it soon if it didn’t make it, and moved on with my day. But by the end of the night I already knew. I knew I would not be replacing my phone. I knew that this was the missing piece, this was my liberation from a pattern that had taken a harmful toll on me. In the days since then I have felt more fully my own and more satisfied with my good and simple life. And so, I’ve decided to renounce the smart phone and am using an old, somewhat pathetic standard phone. It has been frustrating to use at times, and I miss some of the conveniences of my iPhone. But I am really loving my minutes and hours as a wife and a mother less distracted. For me and my family right now, downgrading to a dumb phone has been a smart thing to do.
What methods have you found helpful in keeping your technology use in balance? Would love to hear more ideas!