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Device-Free Fail

Last Mother’s Day our household decided to do a device-free day. Just one twenty-four-hour period that our small family would spend together, interacting, paying full attention to the people in front of us. We failed miserably.

I’m the one my family calls if there’s a problem with the computer. Generally, I can figure it out. But I’m no IT specialist. I’m not into TikTok and I’m not a regular on Twitter. That said, I am on my device a lot. According to my phone’s stats, eight hours average per day (what??) Mostly texting, listening to podcasts, reading the news. With everyone staying home these coronadays, I would wager we’re all on our devices more often.

In a Healthline article published on October 17, 2019, Rebecca Joy Stanborough described how cell phone over-usage has many parallels gambling addiction. “Because so many people use their phones as tools of social interaction,” Stanbourough reasons, “they become accustomed to constantly checking them for that hit of dopamine that’s released when they connect with others on social media or some other app.” We all know that feeling, that constant need to check in, to hit that home button. And in a moment where I am compelled to be honest, I will admit that my addiction is getting worse.

Sunday, I managed to avoid checking my email first thing out of bed but quickly realized I would need my phone to go running. For years now, a group of five or six of my mom friends and I have been meeting on Sunday mornings. Over the past few months, we have paired off (to social distance run on opposite sides of the road,) but because of the holiday I’d be running alone. When I run solo, I do so with music or a podcast.

I confess I cheated. Not even an hour into our device-free day and I was sneaking my phone and airpods into my pocket, heading out the door. Just one run, just an hour. Wouldn’t hurt anyone.

A slippery slope.

When I returned, no one was the wiser—my husband and daughter were playing a board game. I showered up, tucked my phone back into the charging station and we all went about our device-free day. Until we had further needs. My eleven-year-old cracked first (she thought) when she wanted to know what the word “flat” was in French. I said we had a French-English dictionary upstairs, but, no, turns out it was an Italian dictionary. That wouldn’t help. Well, I said, feigning disappointment (but actually assuaging my own guilt,) I suppose she could just look up that one word online. And while she was doing that, I would text my mother to say Happy Mother’s Day.

Again, we put our devices away and played croquet out on the lawn. We drank lemonade and ate strawberries in the garden on an idyllic spring day. We took several moments to be grateful, to make sure we did not take for granted any small happiness given how others were suffering. But for a quarantined family, devices are a lifeline to the outside world. Soon, we “needed” to look up a recipe for chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I know we could have dug out a cookbook—I’m an author, I love books, actual hard-cover, page-turning tomes—but there was the really yummy recipe online (Recipe Here) that I always used. I could just turn the computer on once and print out the recipe. We would bake from the printout.

You see how it went. My daughter and I wanted to work on the book we’d been writing together. I needed to print that too. My husband was building a wall upstairs, couldn’t he just listen to a podcast? By eight p.m. that evening, we had officially given up. We were all on our separate devices watching our own shows: Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu for me, the Medicis on Netflix for my husband, and the Home Design 3D app for my daughter (her latest obsession, possibly sparked by the amount of time spent in our home that is perennially under construction?)

Just before we all tuned out, I lamented that we had not been able to make even one day without our devices—after all, we did it when we were camping last summer. Though I wanted to watch that next Hulu episode with a near-burning desire, I also liked to think of myself as unplugged, as a person interested in real life. I wanted to believe that I was someone who modeled less addictive behavior.

My daughter, truth-teller that she is, summed it up nicely. “Sorry, Mom, we’re just not that family.” Maybe not, but I’m determined to try again. Maybe next week—after I finish one more episode.

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