The Gen-X factor (or, How I learned to love my smartphone a little less)

Stick races at the park. Yes, I love capturing moments like this, but I don't have to capture every single one, right?

Neve and Lily having stick races at the park. Yes, I love capturing moments like this, but I don’t have to capture every single one, right?

On two evenings this week, Joe has emerged from our house, still in his suit, wondering where in the heck his wife and young daughters could be.

For the girls end their school days at a preschool that closes at 6 p.m., and is located just three and a half blocks away from our home.

So as 7 p.m. approached, Joe – who arrives home at 6:15 and then starts making dinner – had started to worry.

“The girls were pretending to be cats,” I said when I arrived home one night, by way of explanation. And this was true. Lily and Neve had happily crawled around the grassy space between parking lots for a good while, meowing and pretending to lick their paws.

“They were burying treasure,” I explained the next night, when the girls had been inexplicably drawn to a patch of gravel and dirt. They labored together to build a small mound and spoke to each other in urgent, secretive whispers.

In both cases, I’d plunked myself down on the nearby parking lot curb; listened to the girls playing, and to airplanes flying overhead; watched birds flutter around a nearby tree; and let my mind wander.

“I tried to call you, but your phone was here,” Joe said.

Indeed. And that had not been by mistake, but was rather a deliberate choice that I find myself making more and more.

For I’ve become really tired of the way I bow my head and start poking around on my iPhone the instant that something else isn’t demanding my full attention. I hate that I now compulsively check work email often when I’m off the clock. And I hate that even when I’m finally spending time with my family, after we’ve each been doing our own thing all day, I’m sometimes so emotionally invested in something that I or someone else has posted on Facebook that I’m itching to check for “likes” and responses every two minutes.

It’s all just gotten to be too much.

Before my company issued iPhones to all employees a couple of years ago, I had a “dumb” phone – the kind that snapped shut with a satisfying, “Star Trek”-y click – that truly did absolutely nothing but send and receive phone calls. Only two or three people had my cell phone number, and I usually kept the phone turned off, much to Joe’s annoyance.

“It’s just for emergencies,” I kept telling him. “I don’t WANT to be available to everyone all the time.”

Apparently, I’ve arrived back at that same place.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things I adore about my iPhone. I’ve burned through “Serial,” lots of “This American Life,” and the entire archive of “Radiolab” podcasts while running; I’ve captured spontaneous photos and videos of the girls that I dearly treasure; and it’s pushed me to grow professionally, as I’ve had to learn to take my own photos occasionally and shoot and edit videos for my stories.

Somewhere along the way, though, the scales tipped too far on the side of my iPhone. So I’m now practicing the art of leaving it at home whenever I feel I can.

Am I bored now and then? Yes. But that’s OK. I actually feel a little less overwhelmed because of that.

Plus, in a weird way, I think being a Gen-Xer is working to my advantage in this new venture. For I remember perfectly well what my life was like before there were smartphones and the Internet. We all got by OK. And while much of the infrastructure of that life may have vanished – I won’t be finding a back-up pay phone anywhere in a pinch – these days, when I leave the house, and I’m pretty sure I won’t have a pressing need for my phone, I venture out with just my keys.

Yes, there are passing moments when I think, “Aw, I wish I could take a photo/video right now,” or when I long to call Joe to ask him to just come pick us up.

But even when the girls want to pretend to be cats, or bury treasure, or walk back and forth along a pipe for a while, we always eventually find our way home – our way back to each other.

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