The kids are home sick again, I’m not feeling so hot myself and while Ninjago plays over and over in the background, I’m trying to resist the urge to start scrolling on my smart phone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my smart phone and the technology that makes it so addicting. What other device has most of the answers and gives them to you with shiny pictures and the tone of your choice? I can find an article on women in science fiction written with the voice of sarcasm, high-brow snottiness, annoying snarkiness, depressing defeatism, or energetic optimism. It’s like fast-food for information, guaranteed to have it ‘your way’. Add to that the ability to communicate with friends via text messaging, phone calls (do people still do that?), email, apps, social media and the ability to pay for things. No one can argue it’s one of the most innovative devices in our lifetime.
Sometimes though, I miss the joy of searching for something, the experience of finding the answers on my own. When I was a kid, horses fascinated me. I don’t even know why. We didn’t have a TV, so it’s not like I saw them on an old Rawhide episode. Maybe I saw someone riding a horse one day. All I know is horse fever took hold and burned within me for months. Which would have been fantastic had we lived in Kentucky. Fortunately, we didn’t live in the Bluegrass state which meant I had to really want to learn about horses if I was going to find out anything at all about them. I started a horse notebook and spent an entire summer flipping through stacks of magazines and newspapers for photos. While my brothers were throwing those annoying firecracker poppy things at unsuspecting feet for fun down at the strip mall, I was tucked away in the library reading about Mustangs and Shetland ponies. Today, give me three minutes and I’ll find out twice as much as I did that summer, but it will mean so much less.
On the other hand, I love having the option to look up anything I want whenever I want. I know. Having two diametrically opposed views on most things is my normal state of being. Welcome to my world :). I’d be a fool to say it’s not handy to have the answers at my fingertips. When we sat there watching New Girl and I kept saying to myself, “Whoa, her face is so familiar. Where have I seen her before? You know what, she reminds me of Bones!” A few clicks later, I can solve the mystery and go on to actually enjoy the show instead of spending every minute mentally comparing smiles and mannerisms to someone else.
I’ve gone through phases with my phone. One month, I added every word game app I could find. I have this mental mantra where I tell myself, ‘Find what you love to do and do one small thing toward that each day.’ During the days when I couldn’t write due to family life, I would play these games thinking, ‘I’m increasing my vocabulary. I’m training my brain. I’m doing my one small thing.’ Another month, I opted for something requiring a little less brain activity like matching up three pieces of candy in a row. Until my perfectionism set in and I refused to move on to the next round until I had three stars for every level.
I have useful apps on my phone, too. My husband and I both have a grocery list app. Whenever one of us adds an item, it updates on the other phone. Handy. I use a running app that tracks how far I walk or run and spits out all the fun details like pace and calories burned. That borders on handy and encouraging–or discouraging depending on how you look at it! I even have the Kindle app and can read a book any time, anywhere. All I need is two minutes of downtime waiting for the train, or spacing out while the kids are playing Flying Glitter Bone Dragons with each other in the background, and I can pull up some light reading, like, you know, James Joyce or H.P. Lovecraft.
And that’s why when those two minutes of free time pop up, the first square my fingers search for is the blue one with the white f on it. I’ve tricked myself into believing Facebook, Twitter and other social media only takes two minutes. Depending on which article you read, the numbers show we spend anywhere from 1 hour each day to over 3 hours each day on social media and close to 6 hours on all digital media. I’m positive writers (blog writers, journalists, authors) fall on the high end of that spectrum. The problem is, I don’t want to invest that time there anymore. I want to invest it somewhere else. Maybe reading physical books, making a ninja costume for the kids, or playing hide and seek and remembering what it’s like to be five again (once the fever is gone!).
To be fair, it’s really digital media I have an issue with, not phones, but for me, they have become synonymous with each other. Each week, the amount of time I spend on my phone becomes less. Not necessarily because I’ve decided technology is bad, but because life has a way of pulling me back into the real world. For the past two days, I’ve barely been able to find my phone. In my social online realm, the Halloween Party I’m planning is filled with posts I haven’t replied to, I’m late sending my response to a really funny guy on Twitter about the battle to remove Lord Darkface, people have sent DM’s on Twitter, but I ignore those anyway, I haven’t posted my comments on a workshop for the University of Iowa’s MOOC I signed up for, or thanked those who reviewed my work, I’m late uploading comments for my writer’s group I missed last night, and I really can’t remember if I ‘liked’ all the responses to a post I had on Facebook the other day. I’m positive I’ve missed life-changing events on Facebook because people feel the need to post there instead of calling, so if you’re reading this and I missed someone’s birth, death, graduation or marriage, sorry! I deleted the candy game, and while Joyce and Lovecraft are still on my phone, I’ll pay them my respects when I can. It won’t be today.
Today, the rest of this week really, isn’t about phones or apps or posts. While me or my daughter sniffle for what feels like the five hundredth time, I don’t want to think about scrolling on my phone or checking status updates for missed birthdays. I actually hope I remember this feeling three days from now when everyone starts feeling better and we’re back on our old routines. I’m not ready to throw away my phone, but putting some distance between us sounds good right about now.