little dictator cell phones

Posted: April 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

shamelessly ripped off of my FB newsfeed

I first started noticing the inconvenience of cell phone obsession when I was teaching a junior high Sunday school class and leading a junior high youth group, and at the same time leading a junior/senior high youth group in a different church.  I mean, cell phones had been around for a long time by then, but this was the first that I started to notice them becoming an impediment in my face-to-face communications with people. 

None of the kids had ill will or bad intentions.  One group was churched kids from supportive churched families who were as over-the-top excited about our time together as I was.  The other group was mostly unchurched kids who were choosing, without being forced by any adults in their lives, to spend a few hours with me and the pastor.  It wasn’t a snotty thing or intentional disrespect or some kind of bit of passive aggressive baloney. 

Still, it was an impediment.  I was trying to teach, trying to lead, trying to coax thought and conversation out of them, trying to challenge, comfort, reassure, and grow them.  Trying to form or strengthen a bond.  Trying to impart good stuff into their lives.  In other words, I had a HUGE agenda in the very laid-back time we spent together, and those darn cell phones made me crazy.  I could watch the kids check out.  They didn’t MEAN to check out.  They were 100% in the conversation and then…their phones made a noise and it was like watching them fall down the rabbit hole.  They were gone. 

Since I tried to never run these things like some old dictator schoolmarm, I couldn’t just demand, “all cell phones off NOW.”  Couldn’t harshly demand that they turn them over to me.  I needed their willing cooperation, their cheerful participation, not their forced correct behavior.  This was a challenge that made me crazy more often than not…and not showing how crazy it made me was a serious challenge that made my teeth grind (though I gotta say, I rose pretty well most weeks). 

In my opinion, the problem gets more marked as our phones get smarter.  These kids were mostly just texting, as this was the time before smart phones were so pervasive.  I think smart phones brought adults into the obsession with the face of the phone that texting had not accomplished.  It worries me.  I think we are losing social skills to the crutch of the tiny screen.  Block out the world around me, don’t struggle to make new friends or deepen current relationships.  Don’t spend energy studying those around myself and absorbing helpful wisdom.  Just…tune into the screen and zone out of the reality all around. 

I’m not pretending I’m less guilty than others around me.  Heaven knows I love my Iphone 5.  I always know where it is, and most of the time it is within arm’s reach for me.  I always check it when transitioning from one activity to another.  Really…always.  I’m a texting freak and a Facebook junkie and still all old school in loving email as well (funny, that email is now yesterday’s news, isn’t it?)

Still, there are some rules I try to hold fast to, to prevent socially crippling myself and halting relationship growth. 

1.  When I go into church or any kind of  group meeting, the phone is either turned all the way off, or is put on silent and I don’t check when it vibrates, unless I know someone is in the midst of a crisis and might need me.

2.  At work, it stays on silent and I restrict myself to only checking it during transitions, and even then I try to only check for missed calls, voice mails, and texts.  Not emails or Facebook – those, I try to only check on my lunch break.

3.  When I’m meeting one-on-one with someone – again, the phone is either off or put on silent, and I don’t check when it vibrates, absent any current known crisis. 

4.  When I’m out doing something special just for me (such as a bike ride), or just quiet time with God, I generally intentionally ignore the phone, choosing to just check it periodically and not jump to obey the timings of its little bossy noises. 

(Note that in all of these, it’s not an all-or-none proposition.  If I know there is something I need to watch for, I will make apologies to the person I am with and check…and then put the darn phone back in my pocket or my purse as promptly as I can.  And if I’m just chilling with someone and they clearly want to check their phone, I just go with the flow and check mine, too.  I’m not trying to be the cell phone nazi here!  It’s supposed to be FREEING, not OPPRESSIVE, this way that I have.)

I have watched this make people crazy when I am with them.  “Your phone is vibrating.  I see it lighting up.  Don’t you need to check that?”  No, I don’t.  It feels more courteous, more respectful, more caring to me to really BE with the person I am with.  I know, for myself, that I sometimes feel a little sad and slightly lonely or sometimes annoyed when I’m one on one with someone and they are more into their phone than into me.  I can check messages later and touch base with whoever I missed.  In all those long, long years of land-lines only, we mostly didn’t die from having to wait for someone to get a message or – before answering machines – for someone to call back later.  Having a phone on my person does not have to be a guarantee that I can be reached in 3 rings or fewer..or even in an hour or less, for that matter. 

The negative effect of this is that I’m sure some find me hard to reach, when measured by the current standard of so many of us keeping our phones as close as the length of our arm.  I’m sure I frustrate some with my slow responses.  Frustration is definitely not my objective – but I feel certain that it is the effect sometimes. 

The positive effect of it?  I’ve never had anyone complain that I am “TOO present” with them.  People like it when you stay right there in the room with them, not just physically but also mentally.  People like not having to compete for your attention, not having to watch you check out  to another planet as your phone summons you imperiously, over and over.  I mean…sure, I LIKE IT…but I’ve noticed others like it too.  I’m not alone in this. 

But that’s just my approach.  What’s yours?

  1. Mindy Warren says:

    We are cell phone free (except for a track phone in the car for emergencies)! We went back to the land line a little over a year ago and it has been such a relief. Others were not very happy with us, but what a great decision it has been for us!

  2. I’m really NOT a phone person anyway, and I only have and use my cellie for bus times or when I am out and getting round by bus and Connection service.
    I was quite taken in by my BlackBerry several years back and then in 2010 went to a landline and never really have looked back.
    I notice, too, the disconnect that has come over us all with the advent and evolution of cell phones and technology. I love when I hear from YOU in an email and I feel like you are focused totally on ME for that moment. that’s what I appreciate about people who have, as you have here in this post, come to clear understanding of what works and does NOT work for them.
    also, like you found with your Sunday School kids, I have been more than a little undone by [but NOT wanting to BE] kids and their phones when I was teaching at the museum. I like what you write here about the rabbit hole and their lack of intention. sometimes it is hardest to honour the shifts and changes in generations, but I feel it is MY responsibility to stay open and come to my own understandings. I remember party lines and long distance and having to get off the phone and Now many families, if the DO sit down to dinner together, are mostly all focused on their wee screens or BIG screens and NOT talking and listening and BEing Present with one another. this is something I have come to accept, BEing in a generation where I straddle Progress in Technology…
    only BEcause I know “different” DO I react as I DO, sometimes, in a very crankypants fashion. And I don’t like that, but it does happen so no point pretending it doesn’t.
    I’m glad I don’t need to BE at anyone’s beck and call, only Gracie’s, and she doesn’t use cell phones and seems oblivious to screens, so it’s good.
    golly, Now I have written a post in a comment. that’s my thing… having more to say than I think I should. that’s why texting was always a challenge for me and I often HAD to write 3 or 4 just to get the idea across!!! LOL.
    more power to you for your guidelines and clear intention to where your attention is!! and I’d BE pretty gaga, too, if I had a sweet grandbebe to see each day, thanks to this progress in technology!!!
    love the way your brain plays and you, too.

  3. karen says:

    Mindy, I can’t imagine doing that! So glad it blesses you, though!

    Currie, I appreciate that phrase, “in a crankypants fashion.” Been there, done that, too many times!

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