By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
At the risk of sounding like my great-grandmother, longing for the good ol’ days, I can’t help but think back on simpler times when people would come home from work, throw their mail down on the counter, check their answering machine for messages and call it a day. These days it’s more like checking voicemails while driving home, checking emails and Facebook once we arrive, Tweeting out something clever, and Instagramming some selfies while checking the queue on the DVR!
Now I have nothing against modern technology. I think it’s miraculous and revolutionary. Yet I often find myself wondering, can we be connected to our devices all the time and still be connected to each other and ourselves?
Recently, while driving home from my office I was stopped at a crosswalk waiting for some kids to pass by on their way out of school. I saw what I considered to be a very sad sight. A mother (or some type of caregiver) was walking several feet in front of a young boy who couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old. The woman, engrossed in her handheld phone, was looking straight down as she walked. She was busy texting, Tweeting, Instagramming or who-knows- what-ing. The kid, walking a few feet behind her, hung his head low, shuffled his little feet in an attempt to keep up, and even stopped a few times to readjust his overstuffed backpack and his oversized baseball cap. The woman never even noticed.
My heart broke. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to picking up kids after school and asking about their day? So, I turned off my radio, put down my sandwich and promptly told my sister I needed to hang up the phone! I’m exaggerating here to make a point — I merely turned my radio down! All kidding aside, I am as guilty as the next multitasker. I often do more than one thing at a time, and I too have several devices I ritualistically check every day. I am as plugged in as the next person.
But I wonder, can we be so connected to the Internet, Facebook and our smart phones and still be really connected to ourselves and to others?
So, as I waited in front of the crosswalk for the rest of the students to pass, I flashed back to some recent memories: an entire family at dinner in a restaurant, all of them on their smart phones, looking straight down while they waited for their food; a couple walking together on the beach, both talking on their phones; people driving next to me, looking down and presumably texting! These images are now commonplace. Believe me, I am not judging here. I recently lay down for a few minutes to watch TV and received a call on my landline. Shortly after, while on the phone with my TV on pause, I heard an email come in, followed by a text ding on my cell phone. I practically had to restrain my own hand to keep myself from checking my devices while on the call! I comically imagined a cartoon pop up in my mind. Me, juggling my remote and handheld devices while a police officer with a megaphone called out, “Put the remote and the mouse down and put your hands where I can see em’, ma’am.”
Can we find a middle ground here? Maybe not so far back as kicking tumbleweed down Main Street, but at least spending some quality time with the people in our lives and putting down our devices sometimes so we can be present with them and ourselves? And at the very least walking across the street with our kids, together? Sharing a family meal together? Perhaps occasionally doing one thing at a time?
I’ll try it if you will! The next time I walk my dog, I will resist the urge to call my sister, check my emails and return texts, and I will simply just walk with my dog! Maybe we can all experiment and make an effort to slow down and, on occasion, stop and smell the decaf. If you do, let me know how it goes. If you email me, Facebook me or Tweet it out, I promise not to read it while I’m talking on the phone!