Everywhere I look, smart phones hold a prominent seat at the table. They’re getting all the attention. They’re given the loudest voice. We look through their lenses to view the real world, rather than simply looking. We ignore the real, live, breathing people sitting next to us in order to stare at a screen.
I read an article once about a mom who was tired of her teenage daughter having friends over and then watching them just sit and stare at their phones the whole time. She described how the friend would show up, they would say ‘hey,’ barely making eye contact, go sit somewhere, pull out their phones, and scroll social media, text, take selfies, occasionally interacting by showing their screen to the other, but that was mostly it.
So, the mom decided that her house would be a phone-free house. The next time her daughter had a friend over, she told both her daughter and the friend to check their phones at the door. She held out a basket for them to drop their phones in and told them to go hang out. They looked stunned and terrified, but she wasn’t joking. So, they complied. After a few awkward moments, she heard them actually talking, laughing, hanging out for real in real life.
Research continues to prove there is a link between smart phone use and anxiety and depression. Researchcontinues to prove that it is addicting. I keep thinking that in some ways, smart phones are to us now what cigarettes used to be—something new that preliminary research warns against as being bad for our health, in this case, our mental health, something we know is addictive and capable of ruining relationships and causing social problems, and yet we just can’t seem to quit. Research has proven to us that too much use is harmful, and yet here we are, still
I’m tired of reaching for my phone in a tired moment rather than shutting my eyes and breathing. I’m tired of reaching for my phone in a stressed-out moment, rather than addressing the situation directly or taking a real break to walk away and think. I’m tired of looking at the screen instead of out the window. I’m tired of filling my mind with constant noise and constant distraction. I’m tired of half-listening to the real people in my life while I flip through random memes, political opinions, and photos. I’m tired of having one eye on my phone, one eye on real life, and a brain full of noise. I’m tired of wanting to live a present, wholehearted life while being constantly distracted by the flickering little rectangle always in my hand. I want free hands. I want a free mind. I want a free heart.
I read another bit of research that found that the average person will spend almost NINE YEARS of their lives, or 76,500 hours (which is 8.74 years) staring at the tiny screen of a cell phone. That is nine years that we could have read books, daydreamed, taken walks, had a conversation with a loved one, created something, engaged in a hobby, learned something new, organized a closet, volunteered, ANYTHING! The thought of handing over nine years of my life to the mindless scroll is terrifying to me.
So, I’m checking my phone at the door. I put my phone in the basket like that mom did with her teenage daughter’s phone. I want my home to be one where real life happens, real connections are made, real memories are ingrained in my mind and not snapped through the lens on my phone. I want real rest and real breaks when I need them. I’m not anti-phone or anti-social media. I enjoy both in small doses. But, I know that I don’t want to devote years of my life to it.
And most importantly, I think about the impact that seeing me always on my phone will have on my children. It’s like that old Harry Chapin song, Cat’s in the Cradle, where the little boy always wants to play with the dad, but he’s too busy. Then the little boy grows up and doesn’t have time for the dad. Right now, they want my attention, the attention I’m giving to the screen. But, eventually they will have their own phones, and it will be me watching them stare into the flickering abyss, wishing I had set a better example.
My hope is that if I set the tone in my house now, for myself, that social media and smart phone use doesn’t come before real life, real experiences, or real people, that that will be the assumption and the expectation for my children as they grow into smart phone users someday. My hope is that by checking my phone at the door, our home will be a place where we make actual eye contact, where we actually get down on the floor and play together, where we don’t half-listen to one another, and where we face difficult moments wholeheartedly instead of diving into cyberspace to escape. I want that for myself. I want that for my children.
There is a time and a place for our phones, and it isn’t always and everywhere and in all circumstances. When I’m with real people, my phone does not belong. There are so many things I want to do that don’t involve countless hours or years spent scrolling.