Image: Author's own
Arthur C Clarke once famously said "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". He had a point- already this week I have tapped through the tube barriers on my way to work using my Apple Watch, adjusted the lighting in my whole house using the Hue phone app, and told Siri to add cornflakes and toilet roll to my shopping list.
However an unforeseen consequence of having a one-device-does-everything smartphone is that it draws my attention and gaze for more time than I care to admit. The kids can't differentiate between whether I'm writing my next blog piece, sending an important email, reading a magazine, or (too often) getting sucked in by social media notifications. All they know is that Mummy is looking at her phone... again. Last week my husband found an old HD video recorder and thought it would be great to give to our four year old son Kalel so that he could record snippets of his world. Naturally, most of the footage is of his hand covering the camera, but one clip was a wake up call for me. I was sitting at the table eating breakfast, whilst also feeding my one year old daughter and checking the news on my phone. His voice narrated the shaky camera footage: "Say cheese mummy! Mummy... wave mummy...look in the camera!" I didn't respond, as my eyes were locked into my phone screen. He tried again several times... it must have been 15 seconds before I even realised he was speaking to me.
Of course we can't always give our kids 100% of our attention, and I'm all for kids creating their own fun without hovering parents guiding their every move, but I do feel like they deserve better from me at the breakfast table at the very start of the day. Heck, I deserve better - I deserve 15 minutes to sit, be present, and mindfully eat my breakfast with my children, without a phone screen competing for my attention. We didn't choose to home educate the children just so that they could see me checking my phone for most of the day. Part of being a conscious parent involves frequent reflection on how things are going, and making changes when needed. For me, watching that video footage drew a line that I want to avoid crossing in future. With this in mind, I'm currently doing five things to uncouple myself from my phone:
1. Use "Do Not Disturb"- My phone is not for other people (especially the bank or cold callers) to call, email or message me and get an open invitation into the middle of my day, regardless of what I'm doing- that's what voicemail is for. My husband constantly reminds me of the time management matrix in Stephen Covey's seminal text, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". When we react immediately to every call, text and email throughout the day, we are prioritising other people's urgent (but not necessarily important) issues over our own important (but non-urgent) tasks that contribute to our long term life mission, values and goals.
2. Un-digitise phone features where possible - After two years of struggling to read my favourite parenting magazine on my phone "to save paper", I intend to renew my annual subscription next month to the (albeit slightly more expensive) print version. Let's face it, paper can be recycled and there's nothing more hygge than curling up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good magazine.
3. Don't Google everything immediately - I want to leave more space for wonder and curiosity in my life, and suppress my need to have the definitive, "right" answer immediately. Even if I end up googling the answer to a question that's still really bugging me the next day, at least I've had time to really think about it, weigh up and mentally experiment with various possibilities, or use it as an opportunity for some real social interaction and ask a friend.
4. Turn off social media notifications - I kid you not, this has already been life-changing. Now I only check Facebook when I decide, not when a vibration or banner elicits a Pavlovian phone-checking response that has the potential to divert my attention for another 15 minutes each time. I'm slightly troubled when I realise I was so enslaved to these notifications, but there are many built-in features on social media specifically designed to grab our attention and keep it for as long as possible.
5. Allocate time for screen-based admin each day - Yes I know, sitting down to do your correspondence at a certain time(s) each day sounds like something your grandma would do, but it's a great way to ensure that the phone doesn't creep into your hand so often, yet still show the kids that smartphones can and do serve a useful purpose in our lives.
Setting limits and making these small changes have already made a big difference to the quality of my day, and have put me back in charge of the phone, instead of the other way around. Why not try it and see?