miniseries: taking care of yourself and others · technology

Be Present.

Features like "Do Not Disturb" allow you to minimize distractions so you can be present.
Features like “Do Not Disturb” allow you to minimize distractions so you can be present.

I rearranged my entire schedule this past September so I could attend a parent/child class with my daughter, Isabelle, two mornings a week. It’s quickly become a sacred time. Keeping this time free for the two of us has become tricky, especially when medical appointments are only available on a given day of the week or consulting offers come up.  While I have occasionally had my mother or mother-in-law take Isabelle to class, I try not to schedule anything else on those mornings so I can be present for my daughter.  During class time, the other moms and I aren’t just physically present for our kids.  We’re emotionally present since no one’s cell phone is ever out. In fact, they’re banned from the classroom! This ban has helped me keep all of my attention on Isabelle. Since I cannot take out my iPhone, I focus on her play and conversing with the other moms rather than thinking about the calls I need to make or the e-mails in my inbox.  Everything waits until class ends at 11:30 a.m.

Smart phones have crept into nearly every crevice of our society.  I notice families at restaurants who are plugged in to their cell phones at dinnertime rather than talking to each other.  I might give another driver the fish-eye and find their eyes are on their phone, rather than the road, while we’re driving on an interstate.  I’ve seen parents pull out a Blackberry during my daughter’s music class to check e-mail rather than partaking in the music class.  Do people want to be somewhere other than where they are?

Most of the people I regularly hang out with are present when we dine out or get together at someone’s house.  However, there are a few people whose cell phones are always on the table, in their back pocket, or are in their palm.  They’re grabbing their phones every time there’s a ding to see who needs them.  While I rarely say anything about this behavior, I get agitated when someone is more interested in using their phone to communicate with someone else rather than conversing with the people they’re scheduled to be with.   [NOTE: I’m not talking about the occasional response to a text (or e-mail) that comes in during a dinner out with friends.  I’m talking about the folks whose heads are always down during social interactions.]

Don’t get me wrong, I like my iPhone! It has changed my life more than any other possession.  I especially appreciate the way it helps me stay connected when I cannot get to my computer. However, I’ve had to set limits on the way I use it so that my head isn’t always down.  For instance, my husband and I  do not allow smart phones during mealtime.  Therefore, we don’t placate our daughter at restaurants by allowing her to watch videos on our iPhones.  If we have a burning question at dinnertime, we hold on to it, like we did in the old days, and look up the answer after we’re finished eating.  My husband and I are strict about this no cell phone policy since we want to be present for our daughter and each other during mealtimes.

I’m from the belief that it’s important to be present during professional activities too.  For instance, I tuck my phone away when I attend board meetings since I don’t want people to think I’m Facebooking rather than listening to someone who is presenting a report.  When it comes to me teaching, I like having a captive audience.  Therefore, when I taught a graduate course in children’s literature and the teaching of writing last summer, I crafted a cell phone policy for my syllabus.

It is expected that participants will turn off cell phones during class. If the participant is expecting an important call, please inform the instructor at the beginning of class, and set the phone to vibrate. Please do not answer the call in the classroom. Please be courteous to other learners by excusing yourself, and leaving the classroom to answer the call.

In addition, if you need to send or receive a text message during the class, then please leave the room to do this.

Initially, I worried about enforcing this policy.  I reviewed it on the first day of class and thankfully no one’s cell phone rang or dinged once.  This ring-free, text-free environment allowed for the maximum amount of learning to occur.  Everyone was physically and mentally present for class every time we met.

There’s another place we must be present: in our cars.  I cannot tell you how often I drive past other drivers who are looking down and texting.  It frightens me because the threat is real.  Texting and driving never mix no matter how quiet a stretch of road may seem.  Therefore, if you’ve ever read or sent an occasional text while driving, I hope you’ll take the time to watch this “Rock Center” report by Kate Snow. It’s a reminder of why it’s gravely important to always be present behind the wheel.

Fatal Distraction: Texting & Driving Like “Russian Roulette”

Knowing when to be present helps me think about being more intentional when dividing my time between technology and the people in my life.  I’ve come to believe that in order to be present we must put down our smart phones.  It’s time to talk to one another, face to face, again.  I hope you’ll join me in an effort to be present with those you’re with in the weeks and months to come.

How do you make yourself present for your students, your family, and your friends? Share your tips by leaving a comment.

This is the third in a series of six posts about taking care of yourself and others.

Post 1:  Be more than busy. Be productive. Be happy.

Post 2:  Schedule some time for yourself in 2013.

Please come back on Friday, February 1st for the next post in this miniseries.

A special thank you to Melanie Meehan who got me thinking about the idea of being present a couple of months ago.

12 thoughts on “Be Present.

  1. This reminds me of sitting around the campfire with my nieces and their friends when we took them on a mini-vacation. They all sat around with faces glowing…not from the fire, but from the electronic devices in their hands. They were tweeting…with each other. I felt old and left out. I longed for the good old days when people interacted face to face. Over campfires.

    I constantly remind myself to be present when I am in class. E-mail is used so frequently as a means of contact in my building, but I have been closing mine during class to avoid checking it as I pass by my desk. If I am with the screen, I am not with my students. Too bad if the front office has to call into my room to request that I check my e-mail to find out which student needs to be sent where for whatever reason.

    I love the line about not placating your daughter during dinner by handing her your iPhone. Parent, don’t placate. I like that philosophy.


    1. @Christy: When I lived in NY, I had a doctor who was great about responding to emails. I couldn’t imagine how he did it. And then I was in his office, having an EKG and there I was, just laying there while he turned his back to respond to emails. Something was very wrong with that.

      I liken the need to have to be on email to get messages from the office to this kind of experience. You’re supposed to be focused on the children in front of you, not on messages about comings and goings. You’re doing the right thing, Christy. Stay true to your principles.


  2. Have you read Fish! ? The philosophy detailed by the author is :Be present. Make their day. Choose your attitude. Have fun!
    Being present is a great start. I commend you for this post.


  3. This is our modern day dilemma, isn’t it? All my children are now grown (the youngest is a senior in high school) and often are far away. When Elizabeth was in Cairo, the West Bank or Haifa or Beirut, I had my phone out all the time. Just in case it was her and she needed something. I remember a late night text from Beirut when one ATM swallowed her card and we needed to transfer money into another account – all so that she could get a taxi home from the university to her apartment – she was alone, far away, with no one else on hand, facing a 4 mile walk at night if we did not get the money transferred! . When Ben or Olivia travel, too, my phone is something I pay close attention to. The idea of seeing a “missed call” or text that had to do with them or something serious about them, is always on my mind. When I was their age, the age before cell phones, I back packed across the world with friends for two years – I went weeks without contacting my parents. Different world,right? How do we keep ourselves present when part of being present is wanting to be reachable and present for our children who are far away? That’s the tricky thing.


    1. @Tara: You’re right, it is tricky. The situation you described is unique and I think it’s one to work through on your own terms. If people know why you’re checking (because of having kids who need you overseas), I think that’s okay. You’re being present for your family members. I think that’s very different than just sending meaningless texts. I have no doubt that you are intentional about communicating with people in a respectful manner — always. Keep doing what you’re doing, Tara!


  4. I’m flattered and honored, Stacey. You ALWAYS inspire me! I love your post and the reminder to keep cell phones away from the dinner table. I have four daughters and three are teens so the threat of the phone is always there. Although the rule has not been explicit, I have to say that they are all very respectful of not using the phone at the table. I also remind them to leave their phones alone when they are with friends. Sometimes, we re-visit The Three Questions and remind all of us that the most important people in our worlds are the ones with us at that time.


  5. I do not have a cool phone that can do anything like an iphone, although I’d like to get one. It is a good reminder to be present at home with family also. It is so tempting to get lost in work or computers etc. This is a great reminder.


  6. I really like the line “more than any other possession”. Smartphones have become do ubiquitous it’s sometimes easy to forget that we OWN THEM and not the other way around.


Comments are closed.