Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Smartphones: Whose Hang-Up Is It Anyway?

Earlier this week, I went to a Zumba class, one of my first since I sprained my ankle in September doing something stupid. (My doctor's advice? "You're 53. You have osteopenia. Don't do things that are stupid.") The previous class was still cooling down and I needed to put on my dance sneakers, so I sat on a long bench outside the studio. There were five of us in a row. All women over 50. As I laced up, I realized that the other four were looking at their smartphones. As soon as my shoes were tied, I pulled out mine.

No "Good morning," no "Hi," no "Hello." Just what my husband long ago termed "FIP" or "face-in-phone." Of course, at the time, he was referring to our teenage daughter.

We all bemoan the time and attention our kids devote to their smartphones. But, maybe we should take a harder look at ourselves first. As a group, grownups aren't setting a very good example these days.

What is it that drives otherwise friendly, sociable people to that tiny screen? All day, every day.

Some of it is the social media phenomenon called "FOMO" or "fear of missing out." In that ten minutes before the fitness class, something might happen and ... OMG ... you might not find out about it until an hour later. 

For myself, there are practical reasons why I grab a minute or two online whenever, wherever, I can. You see, I run an ad agency. My staff and/or my clients might have a question or need something from me. They depend on me.

Even I can hear how lame that sounds.

In truth, it wouldn't be the end of the world — or anything remotely like it — if my team or my customers had to wait an hour. I think of my trips to the Y as lunch breaks (remember lunch breaks?). Pre-smartphones, people actually took an hour off each day and actually left their desks and anyone who needed them actually left a message and didn't actually expect to hear back for an hour. This is true. Actually.

In today's always wired (even when we're wireless) world, we're all conditioned to expect or even demand instant access, instant answers, instant gratification. With this, comes an assumption that we are always multitasking. That's really why I check my phone continually. Whether I have five minutes in my car waiting for my daughter or ten minutes on a bench at the gym, I feel pressure to be doing something productive. Just sitting, just relaxing, just thinking ... these things just don't cut it.

I definitely see the error of my ways. (In fact, my recent ankle injury was a direct result of my inability to pause or — God forbid! — do one thing at a time.) But, it's very hard to change my behavior. I do stick to a few rules, however. No phone at the table. No texting when driving. And the phone is charging in the kitchen overnight — so no checking anything if and when I can't sleep.

My daughter follows the same rules, more or less. Sometimes she has her smartphone with her when we're eating dinner because she's waiting to hear from a classmate about an assignment. Sometimes her phone ends up in her bedroom overnight because she was using it to make "Quizlets" in preparation for an exam. (Over the years, my daughter has come to realize that pretty much any rule is bendable if she uses the words "school," "homework," or "test.")

When I think about the vacations our family has enjoyed over the past 18 years, some of the best were deliciously smartphone-free. I refuse to pay exorbitant long distant charges when we go abroad, and (happily) we haven't had signals when we go sailing.

So, I do still understand (and, when I can, thoroughly enjoy) the benefits of hanging up, checking out, going offline. I just need to give myself permission to do so in my everyday life.

And, I will!

Right after I check the text that just came in.

It's probably my daughter.
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