North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

September 18, 2013

Danielle Cater: Just put the doggone phone down a minute

By Danielle Cater
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — Let’s put the phone down and talk — unless you are reading this column on your phone, then I would like for you to continue reading.

Our society has gotten so wrapped up in technology that we have completely sidestepped the importance of face-to-face talk time. As I was emailing my boss yesterday, I realized that we rarely see each other face-to-face. We communicate mainly thought email, phone calls and texts, but rarely do we ever see each other.

I’m not one of these crazy tech-haters who find reasons to complain about every new gadget that comes down the line. On the contrary, I welcome the new technology. I love that when my parents are in India on mission trips I can Skype them and talk with them while seeing their faces and their environment. I love checking Facebook while waiting in the bank line every day. But I don’t love being in a room with someone who might as well not exist because of the distraction of their phones.

We’ve all had that moment while sitting around the living room with family when we realize that everyone is on a mobile device, and no one is talking to each other. Sometimes, we have to make the conscious effort to put the phone down and communicate with the physical beings who are occupying the room with us.

My husband and I have completely wrecked our daughters’ worlds by telling them that they can no longer play games on our phones. We didn’t just do it because we are two people with two phones and four children, so you can see where the fighting starts, but the real reason is so they will be a part of the family.

It’s crazy how dependent we are on our phones. We live our lives through this hand-held device and it has drastically simplified our worlds in some ways. You don’t really need a watch, calendar, cookbook, calculator, radio, computer or notepad... you can do all of their functions right on your phone. Use your phone for all that it’s good for; shoot, even use it to make phone calls every once in a while, but don’t let it take the place of your relationships.

I had to take a hard look at myself when I was a single mom because I realized that I would do lots of stuff with my daughters, but I would do it half-heartedly. I would take them to the park for an hour at least once a week, but while there I would play on my phone and walk the track while they played by themselves on the rides. What kind of connection was that making? None at all. It was simply letting the playground be my babysitter while I texted friends. Not only that, when we would go out to eat, I would find myself repeatedly checking my phone and playing on Facebook while they were eating; never really giving them the attention that they needed.

Once I got married, my husband would point out several times a day that I was holding my phone, checking my phone, playing on my phone while we were in discussions or trying to watch a movie. People really get a perception of how you feel about them by the attention that you give them. So, in essence, when looking at my phone instead of playing with my daughters or talking with my husband, I was saying, “These people on the phone are more important to me that you guys.”

Whether you like it or not, your actions speak louder than your words. When a phone is more important than your family, it’s time to reevaluate your life.

I’ve made quite a few changes in the past year. One big change is that when I get home in the afternoons, the phone usually goes to silent. That’s right, I silence my favorite toy in the name of family. Another change is that when we are riding in the car, I try to make sure I’m not playing on my phone, but instead I’m talking to my family or singing at the top of my lungs while car dancing.

The things on your phone are very important to you, I know. But we are missing so many memories that could be made in this moment because we are nose deep in our online world. Get offline and get reconnected with the people who truly love you the most, the ones who care enough to physically be with you. Everything in moderation even applies to our phone time.

So enjoy your phones and all of the fun features it offers, but set it aside to make some lasting memories with your family. You may still want to bring the phone with you though, you’ll probably want some pictures of the new memories you’re making now.

Just try to live a balanced life. Keep your phone and your online world in check and keep your love for your family strong. When you quit letting your phone control your life, you may find that there are lots of people in the room who want to connect to you face-to-face. This face-to-face connection is a nice concept; perhaps we should come back to it.