Hey people! Look Up from your Phone for a Minute!

Photo of multiple people heads down, sending texts or reading on their phonesI've been troubled lately watching people interact with their phones. Yes, I said interacting with their phones, not with people. Here's the not so subtle message I'd like to offer – look up from your phone for a minute!

I mean, seriously. Have you noticed how we're all tied to our “smartphones” these days? Our heads are buried in them at the office, when we're walking, at a restaurant eating, at our dinner tables, when we're driving? Have I missed anything?

We raise our kids with smartphones, iPads and other tablets. They've become our baby sitters. I see kids as young as two or three years old with smartphones in their hands playing games, heads buried, oblivious to what's going on around them.

I wrote about this in a previous article. I'm writing again because it seems to be worsening. I hope to spur some conversation and help us all (myself included) pause for a moment and think about the time we spend buried in our devices.

If you decide to skip some of these ten items, please page down to the end. I've included a video from a guy who wrote a poem that sums it up everything I've written and more. If you skip the post, please don't skip this video.

I decided the best way to make the case was to list ten things we miss when we don't look up from our phones.

Ten things you miss if you don't look up from your phone

The list is one of the easiest I've ever compiled. That makes the exercise even more disconcerting. The list could easily be longer. At the end of the post, I'd love to hear from you on things you notice that didn't make my top ten. I'm sure there are many.

Here's my list.

1.Your spouse or partner

I put this first because it's the most important one IMO. In most households, both spouses work. In many cases, work is stressful. When we come home with our phones in hand checking the latest work email or whatever else we think we can't miss, we're cheating our partner. More importantly, we're cheating ourselves.

Cathy and I have a rule of no cell phones at the dinner table. That's our time to connect. We talk to each other about our days, the good, the bad, and everything in between. It's the most valuable time of the day for us.

I have my own business. Really, I have two businesses, my financial advisory firm, and this blog. Because most of what I do in these endeavors is online, I have to be very careful to shut it down at night. I'll admit, that's been a struggle. I'm getting better, but I'm still a work in progress.

For Cathy, it's a bit different. She works in the intelligence world as a business analyst. She can't have her cell phone in the building. When she comes home, it's her time to check personal emails, Facebook, and other things she can't do at work. We challenge each other to be aware of the time we spend on our screens. Sometimes the challenges aren't received well. But we work at it, and it pays dividends.

2. Your kids

Our son is grown and out of the house. My comments here are from observation. There is plenty to observe with kids and their devices these days. What I find genuinely frightens me.

We were at a grocery doing our weekly shopping one Saturday and in walks a mother and her daughter. The daughter couldn't have been more than three, maybe four years old. She had her head buried in an iPad Mini playing a game. When mom tried to take it from her to get her to walk with her, the girl threw a fit. I don't mean a little protest. I mean she screamed as if someone had beaten her. Mom tried a couple of times and then gave up and let her continue.

The gym

One of the things I love about our gym is it's kid-friendly. There are young families everywhere. I love seeing parents drop their kids at classes where they interact with others in some kind of physical activity. There's a rock-climbing wall that kids love. They communicate with each other as they're climbing.

It's often competitive but not in an unhealthy way as I've observed. They're building strength, developing planning skills (finding an efficient or more accessible way to the top), and building confidence. That's all good.

But as soon as they're done with the activity, many of these kids go right back to their phones or tablets on the way out the door. The sad thing is, the parents often lead the way with their heads down in their phones.

Silicon valley's view

Think I'm exaggerating and it isn't a problem? Think again. Silicon Valley executives and engineers are limiting or banning screen times for the kids. Why? They know that manufacturers do their best to make these devices irresistible to the user, especially kids. Here's a quote from a Business Insider article:

“A 2017 survey conducted by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation found among 907 Silicon Valley parents that despite high confidence in technology's benefits, many parents now have serious concerns about tech's impact on kids' psychological and social development.”

Or how about this one:

“You can't put your face in a device and expect to develop a long-term attention span,” Taewoo Kim, chief AI engineer at the machine-learning startup One Smart Lab, told Business Insider. 

It's no joke, folks! A recent New York Times article starts with the following statement:

“The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.”

If that doesn't make parents stop and think about their kids and the time they spend on their devices, I'm not sure what will. Do you want to know the irony of it? These same parents often have their heads buried in their phones when they get home from work at the very companies who design and build the devices. Go figure!

3. Quiet time

Quiet time is virtually a lost art these days. I live outside the melting pot that is Washington, DC. Everyone here thinks they are important (okay, a slight exaggeration, but it's pretty bad). Everyone here knows somebody who is somebody or is close to somebody who knows somebody who is somebody. In other words, it's nuts here! If we allow ourselves to get caught up in the game, it's exhausting.

Northern Virginia has a fast-paced lifestyle. It's easy to get caught up in it. If we're not careful, the pace snuffs out our downtime.

Confucius says, “Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” It sounds to me like quiet time is pretty important. Why does it seem it's so hard to find? How many times when you ask someone how they're doing is the response something like, “Man, I'm really busy” or some variation of it? It's as if we revel in our busyness. We wear it like a badge of honor.

To me, having our heads in our phones all the time is a symptom of our busyness. Apparently, we can't look up from our phones to see what's going on around us for FOMO. You remember our friend FOMO, don't you – the fear of missing out? It seems to be an epidemic where I live. How about you?

4. Opportunities to talk

I wrote about the damage smartphones can do to our minds in a previous article. In it, I cited a quote from one of our favorite weekend breakfast places, Joe's Cafe in Sterling, VA close to our church. It's a small, intimate restaurant that's only open for lunch and dinner.

Joe, the owner, greets everyone when they walk into the restaurant. Joe handles seating everybody. He strikes up a conversation with almost every table at one time or another. He connects. People connect. They communicate.

One of my favorite parts of Joe's experience is a saying on a chalkboard on the wall. It says, “No wifi here. Talk to somebody.” Granted, many people don't pay attention to the sign or, perhaps, even notice it. I will say that more people are talking to each other in Joe's Cafe than in most restaurants we visit. We need more of that. Kudos to Joe for bucking the trend.

If you're ever in the Northern Virginia area, you have to check out Joe's Cafe. Tell them Fred and Cathy sent you. That won't get you a discount. But I'm sure Joe will appreciate the referral.

5. Eye contact

Building on #4, when we're texting and emailing our friends and family, we don't see them. Yes, I mean that literally. I also mean it on a deeper level. Seeing someone is “getting” them.

A few years ago, my niece was looking for a church home. We took her to a church whose pastor is a friend. I thought it would be a good fit for her. She loved it. As we were leaving the church, she looked up, hugged me, and said, “Thanks, Uncle Fred. You really get me.” 

With our heads buried into our phones reading texts and emails, we miss the eye contact that connects us. How many times have you read a text or email and been troubled by what you thought they meant? Many a friendship has been ruined by misinterpreting written communications.

When you're looking someone in the eye, you can see into them. If there's a misunderstanding about something that's said, you have the opportunity to clear it up by asking them to explain further what they meant. The same goes for someone misunderstanding what you said initially. There's nothing like eye-to-eye contact in conversation. It's what connects us more deeply.

We lose that when we get our communications via texts, emails, and Snapchat. I worry we will lose the art of interpersonal relationships if we don't get our younger generations off their devices.

6. Birds singing

Not to get too soupy on you, but I seriously love to hear birds chirping outside my window or while I'm on walks. Cathy tells me when she hears birds singing; it brings her closer to God. The Bible, in Matthew 6: 26, reminds us how valuable we are in comparison to the birds, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” I just reread this passage this morning.

In our house, I'm often the first one downstairs. It's not that I get up any earlier than Cathy. It's just that I get ready quicker. When she comes down, I have my head in the laptop, checking my blog stats, on Twitter, or whatever else I might be doing. I can't tell you how many times she'll ask me, “Do you hear the birds singing?” In almost every case, my answer is no. When she asks me, and I pay attention, sure enough; the beautiful sound of a blue jay or other melodious songs from the birds are in full chorus. And I missed it with my head buried.

Thank you, Cathy, for always reminding me to listen.

7. Quality time with our pets

Don't' shake your head at this just yet. Hear me out. We have two beautiful Akitas, Titus and Kaylee. Titus turned nine in December. Kaylee is six months behind at 8 1/2. I take them for a short walk in the morning and a long walk in the late afternoon. My time with the pups on our walks is important to me. I never look at my phone during our walks. Many times, I'll feel the phone buzzing in my pocket. Unless I'm expecting a call about something important, I let it buzz and ignore the call.

Why?

I believe our pets value that time with us as much as we do with them. If our heads are down in our phones, we miss the fun little things they do. I communicate with them via the leash. I don't have to say anything. A tug on the leash or letting the leash out sends a message to them. There's nothing like the excitement they get when I take the collars and leashes out of the drawer in the foyer. Walk time is our time to connect.

I see so many people miss that time either on their phones talking to someone or with the heads down reading or typing a text. You're cheating your dogs and yourselves. Put down the phones, people.

8. The people around you

See #4 and #5 above. So many people on the sidewalks or streets have their heads in their phones. I've had to yell at people headed right at me. Often, they look up at me like there's something wrong with ME!. I often get a frown or a dirty look. I've been yelled and cursed at too. I see people coming up and down the stairs at the gym with their heads in their phones. I've seen them trip. I've seen them bump into people.

If you're a regular reader of the blog, you know that Cathy and I are big fans of yoga. Yoga forces us to concentrate, think, breath, and slow down. I cherish the time away from the busyness of life. Unfortunately, not everyone values that time as much as Cathy and I. I see people come into class on their phones until the class starts and the minute the Savasana (the final resting pose) is over, they jump back on them. They cheat themselves of the opportunity to connect with the people around them.

We love that time. We've connected with people in yoga that we would never have met without it. We've built a little community of folks who connect before, during, and after class. It's greatly enriched our lives.

Power yoga, which is what we like, is hard work. Practicing next to so many people brings us encouragement and connection to others in the room. Most of that happens before and after class. I'd say at least one-third of the class misses that because they're on their phones.

Even worse is when someone hasn't turned off their ringer, and it goes off in the middle of class. That's enough to get a brother (and his wife) jacked up!

9. The curb on the sidewalk

Seriously. I've seen people trip and fall because they walked right over a curb without realizing it was there. I've seen them run into other people, walk into light poles and a lot of other things. I'm sure you have too. I'll let this video speak to the issue.

Nuff said!

10. The pedestrian in the street

This is no joke. I hate driving around town anymore. Three out of five drivers are on their phones. I can't understand why anyone in this day and age would have their phone to their ears. Virtually every car manufactured in the last five, maybe ten years comes with Bluetooth technology. If they drive older cars, they can certainly use Bluetooth earbuds or something. Why don't people use these tools?

There are mounts for our phones that can hook into our air vents, the windshield, our CD slots, and many other ways. Using them at least keeps our heads somewhat looking up. People don't seem to use these either.

The vast majority of drivers don't use these tools. You see them driving with their heads down into their phones. That's beyond dangerous. It's downright stupid. I've been one of those stupid people in the past. I'm reformed, which many say is the worst kind. That may be true. I can't think of any good reason we should have our heads in our phones while driving.

Here's a quote from my previous article on smartphones and the damage to our minds that sums it up.

“According to reports in this Reader's Digest article, there are 11,000 pedestrian injuries every year! And the NTSB says there were 5,376 pedestrian deaths.”

Come on, folks. Let's stop the madness. It is, quite literally, killing people.

Final thoughts

Let me end with a story that likely describes how many of you feel about me right now.

It seems there was a preacher who was preaching away and hitting a lot of great points. A man sitting in the front pew raised his hands and shouted several amens during the message. All of a sudden, the preacher started talking about some things that pricked the man's conscience. His mood quickly changed. He got up to leave the service. But before he left, he had some words for the preacher on his way out. He said, “Preacher. You've crossed the line. You've gone from preaching to meddling.”

I realize I've probably gone from preaching to meddling. Please understand, I'm preaching to myself as much as anyone. I am guilty of many of these ten things myself, either now or in the past. I work on them to make my life better. Still, I'm a work in progress. Let me leave you with this video to sum it all up.

The author does a beautiful job of making the case.

We can and should do better!

Now it's your turn. What have I missed? What bugs you about people on their phones? Is it your time to vent? If you disagree, I welcome your views. 

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