This is the first post in a Sisterhood series by Nina Badzin on gadgets, family and work.
On the Shabbat afternoon before Passover, I received a frantic voicemail from a friend who had texted me an important question earlier that morning. She was worried (and annoyed) when I had not texted back by noon.
Was I mad? she asked in her message. Was I injured? Was something wrong with one of the kids?
Sadly, I understood her exasperation. I usually text back quickly, on Shabbat or otherwise. It just so happened that on this particular morning, I was at the beginning of what I’m calling My Passover-Inspired Phone Experiment. Why put myself through such an experiment? I decided it was time to rescue myself from the stronghold of my iPhone.
I’m a slave to my phone, and I don’t want to live this way anymore. Problem is, I don’t want to get rid of my phone either. As a freelance writer and blogger juggling four young children, I’m not willing to completely give up the convenience of research and work on the go. Furthermore, social media plays a big role in what I do. It’s how I make contacts and earn assignments. My phone allows me to sit in a coffee shop and write for two hours with the ease of mind that I’m reachable to my kids’ schools, family and friends. It enables me to spend hours on Thursdays making Shabbat dinner for the next night while simultaneously checking some virtual to-dos off my list as the water boils. It gives me the freedom to juggle my identities as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and writer.
But it’s also a trap.
A free person can spend a day without her phone. A free person goes on vacation, out to lunch, and stands in line to buy matzo and horseradish without feeling she must check her phone.
I am not free, as evidenced by the fact that I received my friend’s voicemail four hours after my experiment began. The moment after I heard her message, I read her text and wrote back to assuage her anxiety and irritation.
I thought something was up, she replied. You always text back immediately!
And therein lies the problem.
Like some kind of wild animal, I grab my iPhone the moment I see a notification. Sure, I have enough manners to leave both the sound and the vibration off most of the time, but my eyes obsessively search for announcements of texts, emails, Facebook messages and Twitter mentions. Even when my phone is elsewhere, I’m highly aware of its absence. I have to coach myself throughout an hour-long lunch not to take it out of my purse “to quickly check” (how often have I said those words?) to see if the kids’ school called, or an editor finally got back to me with feedback, or whether my latest blog post received comments.
Sometimes the coaching works. Other times, I steal a glance at my phone — inspiring my lunch partner to do the same. The result is that our time together is finished. We slip into the world of virtual happenings. In a matter of seconds, we are gone.
That lunch scene plays out often. When my husband and I go out on Saturday nights with other couples, I notice that at least one member of each couple, if not both, justify the presence of the phone “in case the babysitter texts” — as if the people we hire to watch our children have no ability to problem-solve. Recently, at a packed hot yoga class, a woman’s phone beeped every time she received a text. She apologized, explaining that she was supposed to be working, but she did not turn off the sound. I’ve seen people tapping away on theirs phones in shul during holidays and on Shabbat.
I don’t mention these examples in self-righteous judgment. In each instance, I understand the motivation to escape or remain available, to “quickly check” whatever seems urgent on the other side. I understand the false sense of control it provides. If the babysitter can reach me, I tell myself, then nothing can go wrong.
We have convinced ourselves that this multi-tasking is normal. But as Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home” points out on her popular blog, “It’s easy to forget that ‘moderation’ is a relative term, and if you’re aiming for moderation, it’s helpful to ask yourself, “‘Moderation, in comparison to what?’”
In other words, just because my friend checks her phone 100 times a day, checking mine only 50 does not mean I’m in control.
Must I be available all the time? Should the phone be the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night? Can’t I be more present, more mindful, less frenzied, less rude? I want to become the kind of person with such established phone boundaries that family and friends are not worried or offended when I don’t text back right away. They will assume I’m with the kids, my husband, working or even sleeping. They will not wonder if I am dead.
And so I have challenged myself to cut my smartphone time in half by next year’s Passover Seder. I have several ideas about how I can accomplish this and will be chronicling them right here for The Sisterhood Blog. By this time next year, I will be free. So help me God, because I don’t see any other choice.
Wish me luck.