OK, if you’re one of the 70% of North Americans who owns a smart phone, I bet dollars to donuts you can relate to some, if not all of my latest blog post. If you don’t own a smart phone… well, you are either very young, very old or currently exist in a fully comatose condition. Honestly, how can anyone possibly function as a human being in modern society without a handy iPhone tucked in a back pocket every second of the day? Well, about a month ago, I found out first hand.
A little over four weeks ago, my wonderful family and I were still smack-dab in the middle of our summer vacation in beautiful Ireland, touring the western coast and admiring the ocean views of Inch Beach. We had arrived late in the afternoon, but the kids noticed there were still plenty of people surfing and boogie boarding in the North Atlantic. They begged us to rent them wetsuits and boards, and of course we complied, as this would probably be their only chance to splash around in the ocean during our entire three-week vacation. It was already 5:30, and the rental shop was closing down in 30 minutes, so we promised to get those kids out of the water to return their gear at 6:00PM sharp! Now, you are probably wondering what all of this has to do with me living my life without a smart phone… well, please bear with me for just a little bit longer. Trust me, I’m getting there.
Six o’clock came and went and those kids showed no signs of coming to shore. They were probably 80 to 100 metres away from us, happily crashing into the never-ending rolling waves. I started wading out into the water, yelling… frantically waving my arms… trying to get their attention. I was venturing farther and farther out, and noticed the crotch of my shorts feeling wetter and wetter as the waves got bigger and bigger. So, I took my phone out of my front shorts pocket to save it from the increasing height of the waves and placed it in my front hoody pocket… for safety. Yep, it was sure to be 100% safe there.
Uh-oh, another wave was coming at me, and this one looked BIG! I jumped up as high as I could to try and miss the crest of the oncoming whitecap… and there it was: my iPhone flying out of my front pocket and falling, end over end, into the churning, frothy waters. I screamed like a little girl as I tried to catch it mid-air, but it was already gone! I desperately reached into the murky, sandy salt-water and couldn’t find it. Oh my god, I couldn’t find it! I couldn’t see it! WHERE IS IT!!!
After floundering for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only thirty seconds, I finally stepped on it and freed MY PRECIOUS from its temporary watery prison. It was still on, so I quickly turned it off. Would my treasured iPhone 6 survive? Could I survive without it? First things first. I was half a world away from home, so I couldn’t take this soaked cell phone to an Apple Store, or my mobile carrier. I had to try and save it… all by myself. The Google machine told me to put the phone in a bag of rice for two to three days to dry it out.
That seemed like a really stupid idea, but it was worth a shot.
I still had another week-and-a-half of holiday time before I flew back to Canada, but even after 24 hours without my trusted companion in my pocket, I felt naked. I felt alone. I felt like half a person.
At least, that’s how it started out. As the days went on, and after it was revealed there was no fixing my phone, I started to adjust to my new life… unplugged. At the end of the day, I would connect to wifi on my iPad before bedtime, quickly check my email and update my Facebook and Instagram. During the long days of driving and sightseeing, I found I was actually paying more attention to my surroundings. I didn’t have the ever-present buzzing of an email or text coming in, or of a push notification telling me someone had just liked my latest Instagram photo. It was a weird, yet oddly familiar sensation. For a brief moment in time, I actually felt more connected to the real world, which was in stark contrast to the Irish vacation my children were experiencing.
I think kids react infinitely worse than adults when they find themselves without their electronic devices, even for relatively short periods of time. Just a few weeks ago, my son had a sleepover at his cousin’s house, and when we arrived back home, it didn’t take long before he realized that he left behind his man-bag that contained his laptop, iPad, iPhone and Nintendo DS.
“Dad, we have to go back! We have to go back right now!”
I told him, “I’m NOT driving 20 minutes back to your cousin’s house. We just got home. I’ll go tomorrow.”
You would think he had just been shot, as he immediately crumpled to the floor in a dramatic, emotional heap of whining, complaining, and pleading.
“But what am I going to do? I don’t have anything to do! We have to go back!”
I stood firm, and offered him a laundry list of alternatives:
“Go ride your bike, go ride your scooter, go play in the park, go ride your scooter to the park, go read a book, go ride your bike while reading a book, go play with your sister… hell, go watch some TV! Just stop crying about it!”
Which brings me to another point. Is it me, or have kids stopped watching TV? I know they’ve simply switched one screen for another, but when they used to watch television, I could at least keep an eye on what they were viewing. Limiting and monitoring screen time can be difficult for parents, as this generation of kids is completely hooked and completely addicted to their devices. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Of course, it’s BAD they rely on them so much for their entertainment. But, it’s also GOOD… in a way, because taking the devices away is far and away the most effective punishment and deterrent of bad behavior.
Just look at what happened to my son when he was forced to go 16 hours without his devices. He was mortified, terrified and shaken to his very core. The threat of removing iPhones/iPads from their possession will keep my kids in line, maybe 90% of the time. I think it’s a godsend for modern parenting.
It’s because of this over-reliance on technology that Lianne and I have gone out of our way to try and keep our kids active and engaged in the real world as well. There are music lessons, swimming in the fall, and soccer in the spring. Daniel is about to start up another hockey season, while Abby has joined the debate club, the volleyball team, and will also play basketball. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get our kids out of their rooms and off their devices if we didn’t schedule these extracurricular activities! I honestly think they would have no problem living out their entire lives in their beds, only poking their heads out when hunger pangs forced them to.
Now, I shouldn’t be too hard on my kids, as I’ve also been known to exhibit anti-social behavior when I have a device in my hand. A lot of us have been guilty of burying our noses into our phones in public places instead of interacting with real people. I know I was just bragging about being a changed man – experiencing the world differently after my phone was unceremoniously dropped in the ocean. But now… I have to come clean.
Once we arrived back in Calgary, (and I didn’t have the distraction of daily sightseeing tours in a beautiful foreign country), I yearned for my precious! I couldn’t even last two days before I motored to the mall to snag me a brand a new iPhone. I even got the BIG one! I’m sorry, but I needed immediate access to my email! I needed to text! I needed my sports scores! I needed my mobile Facebook app!
I am fully aware that not everyone with a smart phone is obsessed by it, or behaves the way that I do. But, I do think once you have one, it’s almost impossible not to play with it from time to time, or be caught fully absorbed by it in a public place. Case in point: a few months ago, my 82-year-old father was informed by his cellular carrier that they would no longer offer service to his “ancient” flip-phone. They were effectively forcing him to upgrade to a smart phone, against his will. So, off he went to the mall, and came home with a new Samsung Galaxy. It took him a week to get the hang of it, but once he did, my Dad started to exhibit classic smartphone owner behavior. Just last week, my Mom was telling me about the two of them having a morning coffee at Tim Horton’s, where Mom was forced to berate Dad for sticking his nose into his phone instead of talking to her. His defense was an all too familiar one:
“Geez, I was just checking my email! What’s the big deal?”
So, it doesn’t really matter if you’re an 11-year-old boy who was forced to live through the horror of 16 hours without his devices, a 46-year-old stay-at-home Dad who dropped his iPhone in the ocean, or an 82-year-old grandfather who can’t stop fiddling with his new Samsung smartphone at morning coffee… we are all guilty, to varying degrees, of bowing to its awesome power.
For crying out loud, the list of things my iPhone has replaced is absolutely mind-boggling! The e-reader, daily newspapers, digital cameras, dictionaries, scanners, bank ATMs, GPS devices, road maps, notepads, voice recorders, handheld gaming consoles, iPods, radios, comic books, remote controls – the list goes on and on!
You’ve literally got the whole wide world in your hand.
So, hold on to it tightly or suffer the same grizzly fate as me… losing your precious to the salty sea. And speaking of the salty sea, I never did finish my story about how we managed to extract the kids from the crashing waves of the surprisingly pleasant North Atlantic.
After I dropped my phone, I angrily stomped out of the ocean and barked at my brother Mark to do SOMETHING to help out. What he did was unexpected, potentially brilliant but ultimately unsuccessful. He actually drove his rental car right up to the incoming waves, and laid on the horn, HARD – like for 45 seconds in a row. However, even the sound of that super-annoying horn blaring towards the ocean couldn’t penetrate the sound of crashing waves… and the kids remained oblivious. What it did, was startle a woman beside me who nervously asked if it was a “riptide warning”!
I laughed and then explained that it was simply my brother’s Volkswagen Passat, and that we were trying to get the attention of our kids, who STILL hadn’t looked our way… not even for a second. By this time, the guys running the boogie board rental place were getting pretty cranky and were giving us a hard time. It was pushing 6:30, and they wanted to close up shop and go home!
“This isn’t worth five euros!”, was muttered more than once.
We were starting to think that someone was going to have to strip down to their undies and swim out there to pull those damn kids in. I desperately wanted to avoid getting any wetter than I already was, so I asked the young, redheaded lifeguard perched high atop his lookout chair if he didn’t mind seeking out and yanking our kids out of the churning waters. He was happy to do it, but his first attempt yielded mixed results, as he managed to bring in the wrong set of children! Then, finally… mercifully… success. The kids were back on dry land and the rental guys finally calmed down – but I certainly didn’t.
Did I yell and blame my kids for losing my phone? Of course I did. Did they really care? Of course they didn’t. But, the one thing this whole ordeal has taught me is that life goes on, even without the comforting glow of my iPhone’s touchscreen… if only for a couple of weeks.