Confession: I’ve never had data on my (prepaid) phone. I sometimes load using Mercury Drug suki points; P50 can last me through a month. When I meet up with a friend at a certain time and place, they know to call or text me old-school style if they need to reach me before then. I know, such a pain. But I live within my means and prefer the peace.
I’m usually at home where there’s Wi-Fi, so I don’t really need data. But in these perpetually wired times, I realize this can be strange, even preposterous. The way I see it, it’s not unlike some of my friends who have never even had social media.
Those from Gen X like me have experienced the pros and cons of the analog and digital worlds. Some newfangled ideas I’ve embraced, others I choose to do without. Email forwards from decades ago have waxed nostalgic about the days of biking home late, riding in cars seatbelt-free and how everyone was more patient.
As a parent, I put my kids in car seats and equip their little bodies in safety gear; glad for it when my son came home with a helmet cracked in half because that could have been his skull. But I wince when I see not only the young but even adults so beholden to their phones, trading rabbit holes for real time with the people they’re with.
Since the advent of the smartphone, the default behavior in social gatherings has been to connect for a bit with whoever they’re meeting, then everyone slowly reaches for their phones. Because I’m usually the one without this option, I take it as my cue to go.
Tune out the noise
Back in the day, people were less flaky and scattered. You can count on someone to pay attention. It’s a basic attitude I hope to pass on to my kids: how to tune out the noise, distraction and stimulation to focus on what’s important. To make someone feel important by giving them your full attention. I read somewhere that ours is the last generation who can teach the next about how relationships should be and how to be truly present and reliable.
There’s this viral video of a seventh grader who saved the day when he noticed their school bus driver having a medical emergency. He was able to stop the bus and get help. His parents credited their son’s quick thinking to his not having a phone; he was aware of his surroundings instead of being lost in a screen like his bus mates.
I’ve shown that video to my kids to reinforce why they don’t have personal devices. They have gadgets they bring for school, but we call them “the family iPad” and “the family laptop.” It can’t be a one-and-done conversation; we need to drive home the point regularly because repeated exposure to the siren song of screens can wear down even the best intentions. That means being hyper-aware of my usage, too. Being data-less is how I attempt to model not being reliant on a device. It’s easier to give in; just get everyone a screen to zone out to peacefully. But if I give the gift of boredom to my kids, I have to show them how I sit in that discomfort, too. So we rediscover the joy of reading, playing nondigital games and talking—all low-dopaminergic activities compared to a device. Being able to fully soak in my children’s facial expressions and emotions mid-conversation and how they appreciate me being present and not having to compete with a device nearby that threatens to unseat them is worth missing out on tailor-fit, bottomless entertainment at my fingertips.
Ask for direction
When I need to go to an unfamiliar place, I find out how to get there before leaving. Waze is not perfect; it’s why I always have to enclose directions for couriers headed to our house. Despite this, they rely on the app anyway; it’s rare to encounter one who bothers to read.
When I get lost, I ask for directions; I rebrand it as an “adventure.” The kids experience getting lost with me, how it’s not the end of the world, who I ask for help and how I manage without Google Maps.
This choice does not allow for spontaneity and modern-day emergencies but makes room for mistakes and learning. Somehow, this miserly dinosaur has managed to evade extinction by luck and maybe survival skills.
While I appreciate the convenience of always being connected, it’s also a crutch. I liken it to Bruce Lee’s aversion to using props in fighting; when you have a weapon, you feel compelled to use it. I do hook up to Wi-Fi when it’s available, so handy when waiting for hours at the doctor’s, but I’ve got a book or my crosswords and sudoku hardcopies ready, too.
I like to think this is how I can let my children live out the simple joys of the ’80s. We play Categories, PANTS or Hangman to pass the time. They’ve even invented games for when they have to go to a boring place like a department store, like find the cheapest or priciest item. Or they pretend to “code” each other by creating a language to make the other move a certain way on a tiled floor.
I didn’t have to watch “Doctor Strange” to know not to use my phone while driving. Even with a fully developed prefrontal cortex, I’m old enough to know I can’t handle it. —CONTRIBUTED INQ