Being Fully Present…
It’s a concept that I’m not sure many have had to think about before. Sure, we’ve all been bored and unfocused at times, but now boredom is treated as a sin. Heaven forbid we’d be left alone with our own thoughts.
What’s the saying?
No, we must constantly be stimulated one way or the other and what has become accepted as proper use of time is to be plugged in. Everyone knows the internet is only filled with positive and educational things, right? How could this constant bombardment of information ever be destructive for you?
But oddly, because of this constant need for immediate gratification at all times, there are now people who are challenging themselves to be phone-free, a digital detox. It got me thinking, what would happen if all of us put down our phones? Would the younger generation even be able to do that? Do they know how to function and have friendships and lives outside of their devices? Because I know my generation is borderline when it comes to living without them.
I grew up in a strange time. When I was in middle school, I got my first cellphone back when you had to be careful that you didn’t go over your allotted minutes and text messages. No one wanted to explain a $50 overage to their parents because you HAD to resolve your best friend’s dilemma over what to wear on the first day of school. My phone was only meant to be used for emergencies like forgetting my homework, missing the bus, being kidnapped, or the traumatizing time I thought my parents forgot to pick me up from swim practice. (They didn’t forget, but they got caught by two drawbridges whose whole purpose in life is to ruin everyone’s day.)
As I got older and texting became normalized, my mom upped my 500 texts per month to unlimited because, by the time I got to high school, my mom and I were texting quite frequently, plus my friends were starting to get phones, too. Even though cell phones were becoming more prevalent, they were nothing like they are now. The most we could do was text and kill your battery after two days playing Snake.
But even with those amazing advancements, my phone wasn’t something that I worried about taking with me when my friends and I went to the movies or hung out on a Friday night. We said we would meet somewhere,e and if you were late, you better have hoped we were still hanging around that spot or that one of us in the group actually had their phone on them.
But as tech evolved and became more available, the phone no longer left my side. And once the advent of the camera phone became a thing, the damn magic rectangle might as well have been sewn to my hand.
I was a part of the Myspace generation but not as active on it as my peers. That changed with college and the introduction of Facebook. It made making plans so much easier since my college was more of a commuter school and most of my friends lived off-campus. But even as Facebook continued to grow, I still wasn’t as addicted as I would become later. I wasn’t stuck on my phone checking up on what everyone was doing every 5 minutes. I still was halfway present, or so I thought. Instead of lurking on Facebook, I was taking pictures, you know, to make sure I captured every moment to ensure I would never forget what happened at the party, beach day, or open mic night.
In September 2009, I joined Twitter at the suggestion of my future ex-husband. I thought it was silly. Why would strangers from around the world care what I had to say? Nothing in my life is that meaningful. So for about six months, I had this account but didn’t really use it. When Instagram and Vine came around, I felt they were narcissistic. Why was every moment in your life so entertaining that you felt the need to share it? It wouldn’t be until the summer of 2015 that I would finally join Instagram after a conversation with two women I met traveling in Portugal. They said they were using Instagram more as a scrapbook since Facebook had become so cluttered. That was the first time I thought about it more positively, and then I was hooked.
I am not sure if it was because I had moved to Brazil with my husband, at the time, and my human interaction was limited because of the language barrier or if I was just that homesick, but I became dependent on my phone. If I didn’t have it on me, I would rush back to get it. I would feel naked and off until I had the phone in my purse or back pocket.
I became rude. It didn’t matter if I was a guest at someone’s home or seated among company at a restaurant. Instead of engaging in conversation like I would have done back home, I was fixated on my phone. I had gotten sick of waiting for my ex to translate things for me. It was lonely and isolating to sit at a table and have a conversation around you yet not be able to engage. Even though I was spending at least two hours a day, five days a week, taking Portuguese lessons, I still could only understand bits and pieces of what was being said, and I didn’t feel comfortable answering anyone.
It wasn’t until I got back to the states and had a few people comment on how often I was on my phone. That’s when I realized I had a problem. I could use “I like taking pictures” as an excuse, but I wasn’t even doing that. I was just skimming Reddit for the 110th time or flipping through Facebook out of habit, all the while thinking, “This is awful. Why am I here?”
After my ex and I split, I started dating again. My future husband would take my phone and move it out of reach. Sometimes he would just shift down to the end of the table where it was in eyesight, but other times he stuck it in his pocket. One of the first times he did this to me, I lost my mind and started yelling and hyperventilating because I couldn’t answer a text. It was no reason to have a panic attack. At that point in my life, I didn’t have a child at home that I needed to worry about. I didn’t need to answer that text while I ate my dinner. All he was asking was for me to be present and in the moment and not worry about what was going on somewhere else.
At first, I denied it. I didn’t think I had a problem. (Because every normal person screams about their phone being three feet away from them.) That is until I looked at my life. I had always prided myself on being able to multitask. It was necessary for any of my jobs, but it was different when it came to my personal life. I was missing details of conversations because I was giving a life-sucking electronic demon all my attention. Instead of giving my attention to the person in front of me, I was worried about entertaining people who weren’t present.
It took a few more months, pregnancy, and having a baby pulled out of me before things started to change.
Yes, I’m still constantly on my phone actively taking pictures, but they are of Adelyn. I wanted to share her with my friends and family that lived far away, or at least that’s what I was telling myself. I was getting worried I would miss moments again because I didn’t take a picture. One day I was stressing about finding my phone, and my husband looked at me and asked what I was doing. I said I was looking for my phone to get a picture of Adelyn’s silly face. Then he said something that completely struck me off guard and has stuck with me ever since. “Why don’t you look at her face now and not worry about a picture? What if you’re too worried about a phone and miss her first steps because you’re unlocking or fishing it out of your purse?”
That thought terrified me.
Now I’m working on being fully present with her and experiencing what is going on with my family. I am not saying I’m 100% phone-free, but I am far better at managing my addiction than I used to be. My picture posting has gone down, but that might be more related to Adelyn stealing my phone and teething with it. I now mainly use my phone while I’m at work. When I’m home, I’m not always sure where it is. I don’t worry about it dying because I know the battery will last since I’m not using it. My daughter will take my phone and chew it and smack it around a bit before discarding it. Old me would have freaked out because I didn’t know where it was. Now I only care where it is if someone calls or I need to leave.
Don’t get me wrong, phones are great. They’re convenient for photos and communication, but they have definitely killed authentic personal engagement.
This blog post took longer than I would have liked to edit and get up because I have discounted a lot of my life. At one point, I was trying to review my edits on my phone and just tossed it into my purse because I was doing exactly what I was writing about. I was worried about getting this up promptly. Even though I didn’t have a deadline, I felt this urgent rush to get it up and ignored my husband in the car next to me.
So this is something that I will continue to work on. I never want my husband, daughter, or stepson to think they are less important than something on a glowing screen. They really are the most important things in my life.