Monday, January 13, 2014

Be smart with your smart phone

During swimming lessons one summer day, a little girl jumped from the pool and ran dripping to her mother, pleading, “Mommy, don’t text with your phone or do anything with your phone!”

She was determined that Mommy would watch her show off a new skill.

It reminded me put my phone in my pocket and watch my grandkids swim.

I soon had it out again, taking their photos.

Often in this column, I’ve posed a problem, then offered neat solutions.  But I don’t have many answers this time.  During the holidays, I felt left out sometimes when everyone around me was looking at a tiny screen, but since I have a smart phone, there were times when I made others feel the same way.

Many of us have said (or felt like saying) to people from three to 93—“Please don’t text, talk, tweet or play that game for just a minute—I need your full attention.”

Smart phones are so multi-faceted that it isn’t surprising that we often use them for calls, texts, social networking, game-playing, music, movies, finding addresses, finding our way to addresses, photography, and so on.  With data plans, everything that the Internet offers is at our fingertips nearly anywhere. 

And there’s the rub.  Experts report a new kind of addiction—people who pull their phones out of their pockets or purses constantly.

I took a Father’s Day photo (on my phone!) of father-in-law, husband, son-in-law and grandson lined up on the couch, staring at screens. I would have preferred to see them talking, wrestling, or doing just about anything else together.

Pediatric experts say parents ought to limit screen time for children, who need lots of whole body movement so their bodies can grow, and conversation so they learn language—because that happens with talking and listening, not with an app or educational game.  When parent or child is occupied with a screen, neither is communicating.

I’ve let grandchildren use technology to buy myself peace and quiet.  Yet I’m discouraged when they spurn my offers to read stories—and screens are as bad as candy for causing infighting in kids!

Recently, I turned into one angry bird, sweeping the screens to the top of the fridge and yelling, “I’m a troll and you’re the three Billy Goats Gruff.  I dare you to walk over my bridge!”  We play-acted four stories, and all felt better.

Robin Sloan, a writer, gave up his phone, saying, “. . . the phone had become a toxic compulsion, [invading] those minutes riding the train or waiting in line that used to be such fertile territory for daydreaming and story making.”

Peter Cohen, a writer at The Loop, got rid of his phone, writing, “I’m more present . . .I no longer blankly pull out my phone and start fiddling with it mid-conversation. If you do that, stop. It’s really rude.” 

Ironically, he says using a smart phone made him “dull and more than a bit stupid.”

I’m not ready to toss my phone, but my 2014 motto is from Mama: “People are more important than things.”  Even magical phones.