When was the last time you checked your phone? Your e-mail? Facebook? If you’re one of the coolest people on the planet, you can check all three of these at once on your smartphone. Yep, these phones can be great tools. But it’s sometimes unclear who exactly the tool is. If you’re not vigilant, this smartphone can make you and those physical, breathing human things standing around you look pretty dumb.
I love that commercial that shows people who cannot yank themselves away from their phones long enough to engage in life: the dad who’s supposed to be playing catch with his son (gets nailed with a baseball), the husband whose wife is trying to seduce him (gets hit with a pillow), the girl jogging in the park (collides with another runner), and the one that shatters my funny bone every time, the dude using a urinal—who then drops the phone in the potty (yep, I’m a mom, I say potty).
I could hit you with all kinds of statistics about the dangers of distracted driving, the possibility of technology actually becoming an addiction, or the shortening of the adult attention span because of our constant connectivity. But the most sobering point of all is not any numbers or psychologist opinions: it’s an image at the end of that commercial of a cherub-faced baby girl staring into the camera while her mommy, out of focus, in the background, is completely absorbed in her phone.
Is that what we are to our children, spouse, friends, and coworkers during the day? Out of focus, in the background? Sure, you’re physically there, but when you’re on your phone, you’re connected with everything but the people physically with you.
God’s Whole Attention
I know you’ve probably got hundreds of “friends” on facebook, but think about how many people God has to keep track of. Do you think He multitasks? When we pour our souls out to Him in prayer, He hears every word, despite how many demands He has on Him or how whiny, impatient, or selfish we’re being. In Psalm 34:15, David wrote that God’s eyes are on the righteous, and His ears hear their cry.
I don’t think that means he glances over at us, and then gets back to more interesting things going on in the world. He knows not only how many hairs are on our heads, but every thought that’s inside it. He knows us.
We’re human, and that level of knowledge is unattainable for us about other humans, or even ourselves. But we can heed the verse that says to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). True listening requires sustained attention and eye contact, neither of which are possible when you’re coiled like a spring to check your phone.
We also need to be in control of our own spirits. Scripture tells us that he who has a calm spirit has understanding (Proverbs 17:27). That word “calm” in Hebrew means self-possessed. My translation: Don’t let the phone posses you.
True Mommy Time
Mommy Time is a vital part of every stay-at-home mom’s day. Trust me, I know that talking baby-talk, explaining “why?”, playing tea party, picking up toys, and cutting food into bite-sized pieces all day can make you feel like letting loose a Home Alone-style scream. Moms need some contact with the adult world during the day.
So make your mommy time count. Make it Mommy Time, with capital letters, something your kids recognize and respect. Let it be an hour or so of an activity that requires your whole attention, and your child understands that time is not to be interrupted unless there’s an emergency. Read a book, exercise, write, compose e-mails, or talk with a friend on the phone. Do something that requires sustained attention, something that feeds your spirit and keeps you sane.
But don’t take your mommy time in ten-second, five-minute, and half-hour spurts throughout the day. If you do that, your kids never know if they’re going to be heard or tuned out depending on what sound your phone makes. Don’t pop in and out of the here-and-now with no warning. Your kids shouldn’t have to wonder if they’re going to get mommy’s full attention, or some blurry, out-of-focus version of mommy.
I’m not saying you’re not allowed to check your phone until Mommy Time. But please, don’t do it in the middle of your son telling you all about the picture he drew, or reading a book to your kids, or watching your daughter show you a new skill.
These moments are so precious; your full presence and attention is crucial for it to have both meaning and impact for you and your child.
I’m still listening…just checking my phone at the same time
Even if you’re not a mom, you still have the option everyday of engaging people face-to-face or choosing to stay always a bell tone away from checking your phone. How does it make you feel when you’re having a conversation with someone, only to have that person pull away from you to check some message that just bing-bonged in? In that moment, when that decision to check his or her phone rather than listen to you is made, you can see exactly where you lie in that person’s priorities. You’re second to whoever is sending that message—and the really pathetic thing is, the compulsive phone-checker doesn’t even know who the message is from until he or she checks.
I’ve had conversations with friends who insist on reading or recounting status updates from friends. Really? I’m trying to talk to you here, not our friends, or your friends.
Look at me when I’m talking to you, young lady!
Don’t cheat yourself out of real conversations and real relationships in favor of virtual ones, whether it’s with your children, spouse, friends, or coworkers. Business is often handled over the phone, I understand that. But relationships are not. Those need to be nurtured and tended with face-to-face communication, uninterrupted by technology.
I’ve seen how-to articles on this topic that recommend setting rules for yourself on your technology use. Instead, I’m just going to suggest this: be here now. Don’t watch this moment with a sidelong glance and an “umm-hmmm” before slipping back into your virtual world. Stay with those right in front of you.
By Kimberly Mauck
Kimberly lives with her husband and two daughters in Durant, Oklahoma, where she is a part-time college English instructor and a freelance writer. She also writes for KatharosNOW, a webzine for teen Christian girls, and her own blog Virtuous Woman…Virtually.