Phones are like air and comfort food. We need them and they make us feel good. Have a question about anything at all? The answer is at our finger-tips in seconds. Need to call home? The phone is already dialing. We are all, every one of us, connected and addicted to this new way of living. I like most simple conveniences, so I am okay with that.
We bought our kids’ phones when they started playing middle-school sports and we needed to be able to communicate directly with them about rides. That was the tipping point for us; and also the time I lost Oliver in Target (= my heart cannot endure that again). So we bought them sweet, app-savvy smartphones, and we haven’t looked back. The good (convenience, ability to communicate, locate) still comforts us. The bad (un-checked texting, excessive screen time, awful internet) still haunts us.
This morning Tony had an early flight to LA, so I woke up with him. After he left, I innocently thought, “I wonder who won the game last night?” Many, many minutes later, I had read endless news-stories, looked at countless Instagram photos and “liked” some Twitter posts. In the wee morning hours, I got lost in the internet’s vast outer-space. In this moment, I can tell you I have no idea what I read, saw or liked. It is as if I gave myself to my small screen in the night as it absorbed my airy soul like the dementors did to Harry Potter in the “Prisoner of Azkaban“… (Stop, imagine that visual). Rather than feinting (way to go, Harry), I repelled the internet by opening a notebook and wrote a letter to my teens. While they had done nothing (wrong) to receive my advice on the subject, I gave them my two cents anyway (Parenting 101?). Below are some excerpts from my letter…
…This sleek, hand-held bullet of knowledge is endless, but not priceless. There is a price: Our time.
I’m not trying to be halloween-scary here, but the truth is, you don’t get time back; so choose wisely how you spend it. Scrolling through endless photos, videos, you-tube and news stories does not make your teen-brain smarter. I don’t even know if you do this, but I have done the scroll. I am not smarter for it. I don’t have any new ideas. I am not inspired. On the contrary, deep phone-internet immersion makes me feel kind of dull inside. I feel like all the life and living I just watched (while myself, curled up in a chair, or under the covers late at night), has extracted a bit of life from my soul and I feel bad when I let that happen. During the “scroll” (minutes? hours?), I do not write poetry or plan a new painting, read, talk to Dad or think about either of you. I will never get that time back to listen to my creative, gentle heart.
It is said, for every light there is darkness and among other things, I believe this to be true with technology.
Know this powerful piece of plastic and metal for what it is. While useful and necessary, the immeasurable minutia your phone holds will not fuel you. So I urge you to walk away from your phone sometimes… leave it, forget about it, unless you need to use it for something important to you. Be selective and mindful about how you spend, not just your phone minutes, but all of your minutes.
I invite you to pre-take back the future lost hours of your childhood because they are finite and beautiful and yours. I promise you that getting out in nature, playing sports, making art, spending time with friends are the real memories of your teen years. Music, laughter, art, cooking, reading, writing, creating, playing… all these things will grow not only your mind, but your spirit and soul in infinite and lasting ways.
Lastly, connecting with the world through the membrane-thin skin of an electronic device is only window shopping. You deserve so much more.
We don’t have to go back to making cereal box camera-obscuras. I get my kids are growing up and I have no interest in denying them any fun, so technology wins. I do, however, try to draw the line for us all at mindless internet scrolling. Of course, the irony is not lost on me that it seemed a right-fine idea to post this letter on the world-wide-web only to be found by awesome you via potentially random scrolling. But obviously, I do it too(!) and, most importantly, you get it.
Enjoy this beautiful day!
Apple-art photo by Maaike Bernstrom.