As I write this I’m at my neighborhood Starbucks, enjoying working in my secondary office (their patio.) Across the way is a scene I have seen repeatedly over the last week.
A parent or parents is/are out with a their child. In this case, both parents. The parents have their phones and the child has an iPad. They are all glued to their screens. At least these folks occasionally look up and share something from their electronic world. The other week I watched a mom and her son never say a word to each other as she returned phone calls and he played a game. Not a single word.
It is all I can do not to snatch the devices out of their hands and scream at them, “Do you know how short this time is?”
Look, I’m not a Luddite. I have my laptop (on which I’m writing this.) I have my phone. I have for the moment lost my iPad and have had a difficult time weathering the change. (While hanging out watching TV with friends I’ve been known to pull the phone out. I’m trying not to do that, even thought the TV already serves as a third party in the room. It’s an easy distraction. If I’m alone, I’m working to change the habit of immediately pulling out my phone.)
I’ve been known to give couples an assignment to text each other during day to express gratitude or appreciation. I am as beholden to Apple as anyone.
And yet what I’ m seeing more and more disturbs me more and more. Our electronics are becoming our primary relationship. We reach for it without thinking. We have become so used to being distracted we no longer realize that it is a distraction.
We are cheating each other of the gift of our attention.
And we need that gift. We all, every single one of us, need that gift. In Death of a Salesman Willy Loman’s wife declares, “Attention must be paid.” When we have one eye on a phone we cannot be fully present to another person. Being fully present creates a safe space, a space in which we can speak of our dreams and our fears, our triumphs and our stumbles. Someone’s full attention tells us that we are valuable, that we matter more than whatever is on that little screen.
It makes a difference even when we are alone. I want to weep when I see people out walking, hunched over their screen, completely missing all of the gifts creation is showering around them. One of the truths about paying attention is that the longer we look, the more we see. How much do we miss when we never look up?
Put down the screen.
Stop relying on Huffington Post or YouTube to give you something to talk about. Let your child’s imagination muscle be exercised even without the help of Disney. Look to the stuff of your own day, listen to the silly story your child wants to tell. Just look around… the way the clouds are scattered across the sky, the kindness etched into the old woman’s wrinkled face, the way your coffee tastes in your mouth.
As a child I frequently had my nose in a book, and I’ve wondered if what I did is any different from what I’m seeing now. Here’s the difference. When we went out on the porch to eat watermelon together, we were together. If I’d picked up a book I would have been told to put it down – it was rude to shut other people out that way.
Just this morning a radio show host told of going out to dinner with a group. Someone demanded that all phones be placed in the middle of the table. Anyone who picked up their phone before the evening was over had to buy a round of drinks. I can only hope they had a designated driver.
Put down the phone. Get connected.
With your family.