I didn’t get a cell phone until I was the last one. While everyone else had gotten one in college in the early 2000s, I continued to use my trusty old land line and calling card. Well into my second job out of college, I got my first clunky little flip number.

I never have liked talking on the phone. I was an original holdout for mobile because I didn’t want people to feel like they had to be able reach me at any given time. I liked short excursions alone to run errands and think, and then checking the blinking light when I got home, able to return calls at my leisure. I liked that when I was growing up and the house phone would ring, everyone in the house would start yelling, “The phone! Someone answer the phone!” and then everyone interested in receiving calls (usually not me) would start diving around the room they were in, searching for the portable that was tangled in blankets or stuffed between cushions. I liked that I could answer, or I couldn’t.

Fast forward 20 years later, and I am rushing out the door with my kids to get my son Wally to preschool. Everyone’s shoes are on, and I am shouting for him that we’re ready, let’s go, we’re late. He is, bafflingly, standing in his bedroom door with an old remote held sideways. I say, again, “Let’s go!” He looks at me and says, “Hold on.” He looks down at his remote, presses a few buttons, and then looks back up. “Okay, I just had to send something. I’m ready now.”

remote phoneKids have a funny way of reflecting our flaws.

I wasn’t that bad. Really, I wasn’t. I used my phone to check the weather, the news, emails, social media. Oh yeah, and Groupons and coupons. And the latest funny videos. And texts. (That satisfying ding! Someone is contacting me! In writing! My favorite medium! Did I mention I didn’t have text until a few years after you did also? Why did I wait so long?) Okay, that list was long. Maybe I had a problem.

Wally’s little remote control text before we left made me reevaluate what I was doing. And I noticed some sad things. Notably, I was folding laundry watching Grey’s Anatomy on demand. During the commercials, which you can’t fast forward through, I stopped folding to check my phone—without thinking about it. It was automatic. My brain was trained to believe I needed constant entertainment. I was an addict. A tech zombie. I was on the path to non-thinking mush.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for phone-free living. Those diatribes written by some well-meaning grandparent and shared on social media only by grandparents about the mom at the playground who doesn’t look up from her phone when her daughter is twirling and says “Watch me!” drive me batty. I want to scream, Hey phoneless Grandpa—did it occur to you that the mom you saw not looking up has probably “Watched this!” about 800 times today at home, and that is why she has now made the already excellent decision to bring her kids to the playground so they can run and play on their own, and she can relax and get some mom things done, and the needy twirling kid might be the problem? In Cheryl Sandberg’s Lean in (a book which I actually do not recommend since it’s pretty dismissive about the value of staying home if that is your choice) she does make some interesting points. She mentions that in 1975 stay at home mothers reported spending 11 hours a week average on child care. Today, moms who work spend that same amount of time, and stay at home moms spend way more. That’s a lot more parenting time than when you were young, grandpa. That mom on that playground bench can do whatever she wants with her relax-on-a-bench-while-her-kids-play time.

But—I am also not advocating the zombie-tech-stop-folding-laundry-to-drool-over-your-phone way either. Husband Wally and I took a 1 hour train ride to the city a few weekends ago. Four college kids sat across from us, on their way for a day of fun. At every point of the ride, with no exceptions, at least 3 of them were staring at their phones while they talked. The fourth, while presumably giving their hand and neck a break, would look at the others as they didn’t look back. I thought, “Who are you writing to? Who are you checking on? Your friends are right here! Be with them!” Maybe if they are reading this, they are thinking, “Relax, grandma! We will get off our phones when the train stops!” But from the familiar, casual way they slipped their phones in and out of their faces, I am not sure.

And it is not just teenagers. Observe at any restaurant or gas station the people on their way to a bad case of tech neck. We have forgotten how to wait. We have forgotten how to look up and smile. And worse, we are setting an example for our children that life is happening in these little devices we are staring at.

We just returned from a week-long trip in northern Michigan where the connection was spotty. I left my phone in my purse all day, and checked emails and messages at night. I spent my days reading and playing with the kids and having good conversation and looking at the lake and thinking. Being still. I missed nothing about the relentless phone checking. And more than that, it was a relief.

In real life, the phone is a necessary habit. Weather must be checked, emails must be deleted, texts must be minded, recipes must be consulted. Phone calls made and answered. Social offers a fun break.

I plan to spend the next several months finding the somewhere in between—somewhere between the relentless phone checking and the banishing of the phone. I am going on a bare minimum phone use journey, friends. If you need me, that’s where I’ll be. Or if I’m not, you can leave a message at the beep, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Or better yet, join me. We can run through the streets like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, yelling, “I want to live again!” We can look up together.

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