I recently bought the book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. I felt like I was spending far too much time looking at and preoccupied with that screen in my pocket when I could be doing many more productive things (like writing for instance, or reading, or even, dare I say it, doing nothing!). The studies that Price present are astounding and frightening, like a New York Times analysis that calculated that Facebook users were spending collectively 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every day; or that as of 2017, Americans were spending an average of more than four hours a day on their phones. We really are becoming a nation of phone zombies. My family is no different. I try to limit my kids’ screen time, but it’s probably far more than what is recommended.
What is really interesting in the book is how much the phone (looking at it, checking it, scrolling endlessly) is simply a habit. She describes Charles Duhigg’s definition of a habit (from his book, the Power of Habit, it’s a good one), which is “a choice that we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.” And how habits are loops made up of three parts: the cue (or trigger), the response, and the reward. In the case of the phone, it could be me bored while waiting in line somewhere (cue or trigger) so I check my phone (response), and find that I have email I could read (reward). And so it goes. First in situations of boredom, then in times of avoidance (say, when I don’t want to hear my kids complaining), and finally, just because. How many times have you looked at your phone simply because someone else did? Or checked your email or texts, thinking you heard that little ding, but it was just your imagination. (If you can believe it, the term for that is phantom ringing syndrome.)
I haven’t finished the book yet because it is broken up into two parts that take a while. The first is just information about how hooked we have all become, the second part is a 30-day plan to break up with your phone (I’m about halfway through) with tasks to do each day. She recommends small daily changes like turning off notifications so you’re not constantly checking every email when you hear the ding, or installing an app that tracks your usage so you truly know how much time you look at your phone, or even just pick it up.
It all accumulates into taking a complete vacation from your phone for twenty-four hours, meaning turning it off completely and putting it away for a full day and night. For some people, that’s seems impossible and anxiety-producing. For me, I’m not so sure. At first, I think, “No problem,” but then I seem to think of reasons why I might need it on (my mom for instance, or some excuse I think is “important”). In the end, it’s just silly anxiety running the show and making me think that the world will end in those twenty-four hours simply because I (the all-important legend in my own mind) don’t have my phone on (in reality, I guess, it is the phone running my show). I will post a follow-up when I complete my thirty days of phone withdrawal and let you know how it went!
A couple years ago, I went on my kindergartner son’s field trip to the local fire station. The firemen explained what they do and why, showed the kids their living quarters, their kitchen, and most importantly, the fire engines. They opened the many compartments revealing axes, oxygen tanks, yards of hoses, and much more. Most of the kids were very interested, watching with gleaming eyes. Then we got to the part which the fireman boasted was the most fun – he opened the door to the passenger side of the truck revealing the “Captain’s seat.” He explained that this is a very important seat, and said that all of the cool tools and technology were used in that spot. Then he asked, “would you like to sit in this seat?” Yes!” they all cried excitedly.
Brief chaos ensued as he asked all of the kindergartners to get in one line. After much pushing, shoving, cutting, and complaining, they were all single file and waiting to get a chance to see the Captain’s seat close-up. The first child was helped up, but as soon as she started to look around, one of the parents called out her name, told her to smile, and took her picture. “Her mom will love this,” the parent said. Then, without even thirty seconds to get a glance at the famed seat, the girl was taken down and the next kid was put in it. Again, the child was asked to look at the camera and smile, then removed from the seat. And this is how it went. None of the kids got to really sit in the seat, feel what it was like to be up there, look out the front window, or explore the various interesting knobs and buttons. I was dismayed to see that the field trip had turned from experiencing the moment to taking a picture of it.
And the worst part was that the kids knew exactly what to do – get in the seat, turn to the camera, fake smile, picture taken, get down for the next kid. Only one boy out in the whole group insisted on sitting in the seat and asking questions about everything around him, and he was quickly encouraged to “get down so someone else can have a turn!” A turn at what? I thought. The kids will see their pictures and probably like them, and being five years old they probably won’t remember the field trip too much, but how much more valuable would it have been for them and their little working brains to sit in the Captain’s seat and pretend they really were the captain of the fire truck? Something could have sparked inside one of them as they explored and examined all of the new things they saw there. But instead, we take a picture of the moment and we rush them off for next kid’s photo opp.
How often does that happen? I see it all of the time. Parents telling their kids, “Okay now I need a picture” right when the kids are in the middle of something fun, thereby ending the fun and spontaneity of that moment. Trying to pick it up again sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s not just our kids we do it to, we also do it to ourselves. Think about a recent time where you went somewhere new and exciting – a trip to the Eiffel Tower or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Did you stand there and take in the sight? Breathing the air and marveling at the height and scenery around you? Or did you get there, quickly look around, make a few comments, say “come on, let’s take a picture”? The typical scenario of what happens next is the person stands there looking down at his phone blocking the way for everyone as he uploads it to show everyone his moment that he wasn’t experiencing because he was too busy taking a picture of it and posting it.
A friend of mine said, “it’s all about instant gratification, they want everyone to know they are having fun in their perfect lives so they can feel good and be reinforced about their experience.” Is this true? I hope not. I’m also not bagging on every picture taken in a special place. I love taking pictures and I do it often. I torture my kids mostly because I just enjoy photography and I like looking back on pictures. My computer always has some type of slideshow running and I even take out those old fashioned photo albums occasionally.
More than likely, we will look back on the picture of my son in the Captain’s seat and enjoy it, even though he won’t remember it. Still, we would benefit from occasionally just being in the moment and feeling it; and we need to let our kids do it too, especially them, because they are watching and learning how to take a picture of the moment like we do.
So next time, if we need to take the picture, maybe do it while they are looking in wonder at something or laughing hysterically at something they just saw, experiencing this brief moment in time for all it’s worth.
My oldest is ten – a “tween” she has told me numerous times. I cringe at the word. There is something about it that bothers me, but what else do we call this enormous group of kids ages nine to twelve? (My mom used to call me a “pre-teen” and that would really bug me). Regardless of what my daughter is called, she is growing up in a time very different from mine in ways I never noticed until recently. Part of what helped me see this is the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It’s about girls – from those starting puberty all the way to high school and what they face on a daily basis in their “girl world,” from the pressures to look and act certain ways to the cattiness to navigating the sometimes frightening on-line world. These issues aren’t limited to just girls, however, boys must deal with them too. Here are three that I noticed that both genders face:
1) Privacy or lack thereof – In today’s world of social media, YouTube, and other ways to post on-line, there is a price to pay for being able to see anyone you know on the Internet – our privacy. Our kids today have been born into a time in which pictures are constantly taken then uploaded for the world to see. In turn, they will do the same, and it’s not always the super cute pictures of them as babies with a sleeping kitten, they’re pictures that can be humiliating or shameful – pictures they wouldn’t want anyone seeing, and now almost anyone can. Wiseman points out, “When you were a teen, your most embarrassing and humiliating moments weren’t up for public discussion and entertainment….She’s living that moment in public. There’s no protection. There’s no privacy. This is her regular, ever-present reality. Your daughter is growing up with a different definition of what’s public and what’s private.”
Even if you block your child from any social media platforms (and right now we can because tweens are technically not old enough), that can’t stop others from posting images of your kid. You can do your best, but it probably won’t work 100% of the time. And children probably won’t want to be blocked from it either; they want to participate. They want to be part of the group, but in doing so they are giving up the right to having a private life. Right now I have three more years until I must deal with the onslaught of social media and raising a girl – phew!
2) Media definitions of the “right” image. This idea isn’t new. Ever since ads of any kind could be viewed (from early newspapers to full color magazines), we are told what looks good and right. For quite some time it’s been blond, blue-eyed, skinny, and tan – that’s the definition of female beauty that has been touted (think Barbie). For boys/men: tall, muscular, tan, and naked of body hair. Now take whatever the prevailing image is and multiply it by 1,000 because our kids don’t just see these images on television or magazines, they see it in on-line ads, on YouTube videos, even games. Then they try to replicate it or feel bad about themselves because they just don’t physically fit the bill (who does?!), and as they get older their appearance matters more and more.
3) Ads and more ads. We’ve all seen countless commercials from childhood to adulthood. How many times did you see a commercial when you were a kid and need that toy (I’m thinking Barbie again or He-Man in my brother’s case). This isn’t new either. But kids who play on-line, get free apps, or just use mom’s phone while in line at the grocery store, see double that, usually for other games (my eight-year-old son thinks he wants every game he sees advertised in other games). According to APA.org, “advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year.” Think about all those opportunities for “I gotta have that,” “I need that,” “I’m not good enough or cool enough unless I get that.” It’s overwhelming! Again, if your tween is going to be a “normal” kid (and yes, he or she probably really wants to be) then an on-line world is inevitable – thus, so are the ads.
So what can we do about this new digital landscape that feels like a place to prey on our kids?
1) Accept it and try to manage it. You don’t have to like it, but know that this is our current world and it won’t be changing any time soon. (Otherwise, you’re spending too much energy fighting something that cannot be changed, and that’s exhausting.) Unless you plan to live in the mountains of Tibet, facing the digital world is inevitable, so accept that it is a part of all of our lives, regardless of age.
2) Try to teach your child to be empathetic, to show him or her what it feels like to put up embarrassing photos, and to be resilient if it happens to them (let time pass and the hype will die down). According to Wiseman, that also means not posting pictures of your kids that they might interpret as embarrassing, even if everyone else would think they’re cute.
3) Teach them to be accepting of his or her looks and body regardless of whether it fits the “norm” or not (and that often starts with parents liking their own body image).
4) Help them to see what they have, so they don’t think they need every product or game that is advertised over and over again.
Unfortunately, none of the above is easy! But I keep trying and I’ll be sure to share any tips I learn along the way. Just because the world our kids live in is different from ours doesn’t mean it’s all bad or terrible; it’s just that, different.
Did you ever notice how much time others spend with their faces in front of their phones? How about yourself? I am guilty of it too. It’s hard not to pull it out when we have a spare moment to see what the weather or traffic will be like, distract yourself with a game, text someone, or watch the endless scroll of social media.
But what did we do before getting glued to this ultimate shiny object?
At my kids’ sports practices nine out of ten parents are looking at their phones. What did they used to do before that was an option? Watch the practice? Read a book? Stare at the wall or the sky?
In line at the grocery store what did people do? Look at terrible tabloids to see which celebrity or politician was abducted by aliens? Stare at the person who is taking too long and get annoyed that he or she is writing a check? Let’s not even bring up how many kids are glued to them as they are pushed in the cart through Target or Costco, or sitting in a restaurant mindlessly watching a show while everyone else dines.
I am guilty of all of the above (except the restaurants, that really bothers me), but what are we missing out on? I was, and still am, one to bring a book wherever I go so I suppose that I have always craved some type of distraction. You can read quite a few chapters while getting your oil changed or waiting in that endless coffee line. I remember getting my first smart phone and telling friends that I used to people-watch in the grocery store and observe what was happening around me, and I still try to do that, but when someone is having a price check or deciding on something that takes awhile, I’ll get out the phone.
Are we doing a disservice to ourselves by getting sucked in or allowing our kids to be? Yes and no. All parents want to do is shop in peace and not be hounded with “can I get that?” or “I want that!” so I understand the desire to stick a phone in kids’ hands sometimes (not to babies though, come on); but at a restaurant I tell my own kids to look around: watch the people, the food being served, that guy trying to eat his spaghetti that keeps falling off his fork during his obvious first date. Pay attention. They’re not too keen on that idea, and it often ends up being a big headache with relentless whining until I threaten that they will never use anything smart again.
And what did industries and companies do before smart phones or cell phones? On our summer vacation this year my husband checked his email on a daily basis and his boss asked him to write two proposals because the due date was in two days. He did that while we slept at night, forgoing his own vacation time. What did people do before that? Do the proposals themselves? Say sorry, we have no one to do that at this time? And, more importantly, what would happen if my husband turned off his cell phone and left it at home? He’s not willing to entertain such an idea (…yet).
My last observation concerns our kids dependence on us through their phones. A few people I know have kids in colleges far away. Once upon a time, college newbies would have to write letters or wait in line at a dorm phone to contact their parents. Now, they can do it immediately, in any situation. In some ways that is a good thing. We all need some moral support from parents occasionally. But in other ways, it prohibits them from figuring out basic problems on their own. One friend’s daughter called to ask her mom where to buy a stamp, yes, a regular postage stamp. Figure it out! And don’t ask Siri or Alexa; just think about it.
There are many times when I wonder what would happen if the whole grid shut down and we couldn’t use anything “smart,” and most of me thinks it would make life easier. Would it though? It’s a double-edged sword and one that we must work at and be conscious of all the time; otherwise we run the risk of becoming anti-social screen zombies. Need brains? Just pop on over to your Amazon app and order one up over your phone, should arrive in two days if you have Prime (and thankfully, yes, I do).
Facebook – some of us love it, some of us hate it, and some of us refuse to be a part of it. Except for those who want nothing to do with it and will not create an account, the rest of us seem to have an ambivalent relationship with the most popular social media site. We enjoy seeing friends or family from far away post what they’re up to, or the occasional funny meme, but we are also plagued with negativism, hurtful remarks, and the time suck vacuum you find yourself in after you realize you have spent over an hour doing nothing but passively watching other “friends'” posts and then feeling crappy as a result. Here are some reasons why we dislike our beloved Facebook:
Problem: Compare and despair – “Everything is awesome!” all the time for everyone else, but your life is not that way. You see posts about how fun and great their lives are, constantly. Smiling faces abound. You can’t get away from it, as you scroll through the latest super-fun get-together you didn’t get invited to or the perfect looking child doing something adorable while your children are screaming and throwing things at each other. The real problem here is that we compare ourselves and our lives to the filtered versions of everyone else’s and think there is something wrong with us. We do not know the real story, and probably never will. What can you do about it? Remind yourself about why you log-on to Facebook. More than likely it is connect, to see what loved ones are doing across the country or the world, and how their lives are in general. It doesn’t have to be a compare and despair experience unless we let ourselves get stuck and think in that way. I agree, that is not easy. How can you not feel bad about yourself when someone is showing off the latest delicious meal they made or ate at some fancy restaurant; their absolutely fabulous vacation that you can’t afford or the wedding that you’re not having any time soon? Remember that their lives are not perfect (and they’re probably in debt for half of those things). No one’s life is. We all face hardships that others’ cannot see, or that we don’t allow them to see (which is often the case).
So put a stop to the comparison game when it creeps in by reminding yourself of that. Also remember that most people aren’t putting up posts in order to make you feel bad; they are doing it to share a bit of themselves (ideally).
Problem: Negative and hateful posts and remarks or “friends” who appear narcissistic because they post at least sixty-three times a day (we just don’t want to know when you “check-in” at the podiatrist). First, the negative posts: as a society that has supposedly learned the value of positivity in our lives, we obviously have not learned how to put it to use. This has become especially evident with an election that pitted people against one another. Facebook is a platform for opinions – lots of them, all the time. What can you do about it? One option is to simply keep scrolling (rather quickly) and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into other people’s rants or otherwise. It’s tempting, especially when you staunchly disagree and think you can prove why the other person is wrong, but just don’t do it. You will not change their minds. I repeat, you-will-not-change-their-minds. You will only get embroiled in an argument that no one ends up winning. The same goes for being the voyeur who just reads it all, gets upset, but doesn’t comment (that’s usually me). Don’t bother continuing to read; it will just piss you off and then you’ll yell at your kids or your spouse or your dog for someone else’s stupidity. For more direct action, use the “see less” option. Here is how you do that:
1. Go to a story in your News Feed that you want to hide and click the little gray V looking thing on the right.
2. Click Hide post. You can click Undo to cancel hiding the post.
3. Click See less from [name]
By clicking on this option you will not see all of the similar posts that your “friend” puts up. This also works for the friends who feel the need to post about every possible moment in their day-to-day lives. My only guess for why people do this is because it just becomes a habit: take picture, hit post, and repeat. Are they looking for feedback or “likes” on every post, or are they just over-sharing? That probably depends on the person. Either way, your news feed can get clogged by the never-ending stream of posts by just one person. The “See Less” option helps. Or, if you really do not want to see any of a person’s posts, but still want to be “friends,” you can “Unfollow” that person. Follow the same instructions above, but click on the “Unfollow” option.
Problem: the time suck continuum – how often do we glance at our news feed only to keep scrolling and scrolling and before we know it, we have spent over an hour (or more) of our time comparing ourselves, getting angry at negative posts or annoyed by others? It’s not worth it. More than likely, you don’t feel good about yourself or people in general after spending so much time passively watching others’ lives go by via FB posts. We criticize young people and their addictions to screens when we must share some of the blame too (and we need to remember that we are the example that they see on a daily basis). What can you do about it? If you know that you can’t cut down or set a reasonable time limit for yourself and want to take a break, then “Step away from that account.” Just stop logging-on, delete the app from your phone or tablet, and resist the urge to type in the address when on your computer. Life will not end, others will not stop posting, the sun will continue to rise every day, and you will not be missing out if someone’s cat does a back flip for the first time. If you want take more significant action, you can “Deactivate your account” which will disable your profile temporarily and remove your name and photo from many things that you have shared. To do this:
1. Go to Settings.
2. Click “Deactivate My Account” near the bottom of the page.
3. You will then go through a series of questions and windows, complete with pictures of your friends who will “miss you,” according to Facebook.
Facebook provides all of these options for us because they don’t want us to do one thing – leave. And we can’t, entirely. Facebook is the Internet’s Hotel California, “you can’t check out any time you want, but you can never leave.” There is a way to permanently delete your account which involves multiple steps and waiting for two weeks. In that fourteen day time frame, if you log back on for any reason, your account will not be deleted and you go through the process all over again. If you get through that two week period and your account is officially deleted, you’re still not completely gone. Certain things remain like personal messages you have sent to other users . You can never be deleted entirely.
Still, we must remember some of the positives involved with engaging in Facebook. It is nice to see pictures of people and places far away. You do get a much needed laugh sometimes at a friend’s post, or educated on a subject you knew nothing about. We can feel a little less lonely at times knowing that there are others out there posting (and posting and posting). In the end, we must take the good with the bad and try to keep a healthy balance. So, here is the quick take-away to solving the problems listed above:
1) Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s not worth it – you’re better than that.
2) Don’t involve yourself in other people’s business. It’s their issues, not yours (from overboard expression of opinions to liking themselves and their own image a little too much).
3) Check yourself (before you wreck yourself) on the amount of time you invest in any social media site.
Try to remember that they are tools to enhance and enrich our daily existence; they are not essential to our lives. The majority of us can remember a time before any of this existed, and we were fine. We found other ways to distract ourselves. That being said, most of us will continue to use Facebook anyway and keep trying to strike that balance so if you liked this blog post, please share it, I’m trying to get 5,000,000,000,000,000 likes and break that Guinness world record.
Most of us know about Pavlov’s experiments involving dogs and bells. If you don’t, here is a quick summary: at the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov was studying digestion and stumbled upon the idea of conditioning. After some training, he found that if he rang a bell, dogs in his experiment would start to salivate in anticipation of being fed. Now all he had to do was ring the bell and the dogs would involuntarily salivate, expecting their next meal. This process came to be known as classical conditioning, in which an animal (or human) learns to respond to a certain stimulus in a specific way (that is just the basic idea).
When my best friend worked at Macy’s in her twenties I noticed a series of dings over the intercom system one day. I asked her why they did that. She said that it was different signals to employees to start break or end it, to clock-out, etc. I was surprised that Macy’s would employ such a system, but it made more sense than someone walking around and telling people what they needed to do at certain times. And god forbid they announce it over the loud speaker and disturb someone’s luxury shopping experience. I asked her if she and her fellow workers salivate when they hear the dings . My dear friend who didn’t read much and is a bit blond didn’t get it, but I thought it was funny.
And yet now, in the twenty-first century I noticed that I am the one salivating at bells, well in this case it’s automatically responding to my iPhone when it dings to signal that I received an email, or makes a sound when I have a text. I noticed myself unconsciously reaching for my phone to see what important email that I just had to read, and yet all I would find is: there is yet another sale at Target or my son’s little league team posted new pictures of their last game. Do I need to stop what I am doing to know these things? No. Have I been conditioned too?
Yes. And it isn’t just me. I see people constantly stopping to look at their phones when they make a sound. My father-in-law uses his phone only for work and he is always responding to it. Before phones he would easily work a ten hour day, now with the phone always near him they can reach him at any waking hour, and they do. He doesn’t seem to notice this.
How many times have you been talking to someone only to have them respond to their phone while trying to act like they are still paying attention by nodding while they read their screen, and then acting like they knew what you just said? It happens to me and I know that I have done it to others, especially my kids. I realized that I did not like being one of Pavlov’s email dogs. I didn’t want to respond automatically to the many sounds of the iPhone. If I was expecting something important or there was an emergency, I would be okay with it, but if that were the case then the other person should just pick-up the phone
and call, the old-fashioned way. So I did something drastic – I went to settings and made all of the sounds silent. I turned off the ding on both my phone and tablet so I didn’t hear double dings while sitting and reading a book. Unless I made the effort to get my phone and look at it, I was deaf to the announcement of Target sales or to Facebook telling me that I might have been mentioned in someone’s post.
It has been a much quieter and calmer existence without the barrage of dings and signals. I even turned off the email sound on my husband’s phone who responded in the same conditioned way as I did. He has yet to notice. Are you conditioned in this way too? Do something drastic like I did, got to Settings and just turn those sounds off.