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Unplugging and plugging in

POSTED: July 12, 2017 9:00 a.m.
Brooke Romney/

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I was slow to the smartphone party. My phone had always been for conversation and an occasional text. Then I got my first iPhone, and I was in love.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way my phone morphed and became my best friend and most trusted companion. It was incredible to be home with my kids and still completely in step with the outside world.

But there are downsides, lots of them. It’s shocking how no amount of crying and screaming can shift parental focus from a phone, but one ding from a piece of technology immediately pulls all attention away from what matters most. I wonder how many times a person’s feelings, fears or joys were put on hold or stifled so we could just “check that message.”

I told myself I was the exception. I was staying balanced. I patted myself on the back with phrases like, “You only have two apps on your phone you even look at.” “You don’t play games on it, you just use it for information.” “It saves you so much time, you are hardly ever on the computer now.” “It’s so fun to stay connected to family and friends.” I am an expert at rationalizing away my favorite vices.

Then, last Sunday, our family went to the park together. My phone was dead, so I just left it at home. I am embarrassed to admit that I felt a little panicky about it, walking a whole block away from my worldly connection.

That night at the park was different. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, virtually catching up on what other families were doing together that evening, I inserted myself into my own family. I played soccer with my boys and verified their assumptions that I am a horrible athlete. When my asthma kicked in, I exited the game and went down the slides with my toddler. We yelled animal noises over and over again and laughed and laughed together.

When the little guy wanted to join in the soccer game, I sat on the bench and watched, really watched, my family play. I noticed how big, fast and aggressive they had all become. I saw their dad fly around the field proving he’s still got it. I smiled as my 2-year-old cheered and jumped and ran with his arms swinging furiously. I marveled at what great buddies they have all become.

I had a minute alone to think, to reflect, to appreciate. I sat and breathed in the night: the perfect weather, the mountains, the kids, the giggles and shrieks. I took time to be grateful for what I have instead of scrolling through pictures of things I want. It felt good. I felt present and alive in my own reality, a feeling that had been dormant for too long. I am not sure when I became so uncomfortable with mental silence and introspection, but I am guessing it was about the time I let technology crowd my every quiet space.

When I arrived home after three hours away from my phone, it was shocking to see that I hadn’t missed a thing, and I am not nearly as important as I thought I was. I had two non-urgent text messages and not even one new email.

We wonder why kids refuse to unplug, why they don’t make eye contact, why they act like their phone is their lifeline … perhaps they are learning by example from the adults in their life?

I am not a social media hater. It has strengthened my relationships with friends and family and given me support, advice and love. But it should not be a voyeuristic tool: a peeping telescope, a one way mirror, a springboard for envy and hate. Using it for the right reasons, in moderation, is good. However, its proper place should be much lower on our priority list than it usually is.

So, I am making a change. My phone will no longer hold me hostage while there are real people to love and subtle moments to cherish. From now on, don’t expect an immediate response to every text message, email or phone call, and I may not be able to comment on your child’s piano recital because I am busy listening to my own kids make music.

As we walked home on Sunday, a little sweaty and a lot happy, my 7-year-old said, “This was a really great day, huh?”

And it was. I didn’t have a camera to capture the moment, but I didn’t need one. I knew I was there. My husband knew I was there. My kids knew I was there. We had truly spent an evening together. I lived it, and it changed me … no photo necessary.
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