Put Down the Phone and Nobody Gets Hurt


Put Down the Phone and Nobody Gets Hurt

I make an effort to see the good in the world. It’s not an easy job between national politics, the news, traffic, and carpool partners who punctuate unspoken, unrealistic expectations with raging temper tantrums.

I find joy in my family, my home, in nature, and from friendships. The seasons bring different happy moments. Every summer I grow a garden full of tomatoes and zucchini and give half of it to my neighbors. My kids love the beach, and I sit on the sand watching them bounce in the waves and think “This is the life.” 

During winter months, I love to cook a giant pot of soup. I miss summer, but I make the most of the coziness of shorter days and cooler temperatures. I stress out about Christmas, but holiday traditions offer a sense of continuity that I can’t get enough of. And before you know it, I’ll be celebrating spring by putting seeds in the ground.

There are so many good things to enjoy. Counting my blessings is how I stay positive and how I fight the inclination to be critical, cynical and grumpy.

But seriously, no matter how many daily affirmations I read, I’m still annoyed by things like the guy using his Tesla to avoid parking tickets.

A new two-hour downtown parking limit in Janeville, Wisconsin has inspired a Tesla owner to maximize his car’s remote “summon” and “park” features. Rather than get a ticket, rather than go outside and move his car, rather than buy a parking pass and park in the employee lot, he uses his Tesla app to move the car from one spot to another.

This guy stands at his office window and points his smart phone at his car, and the car moves to another spot for the next two hours.

Oh, I know I’m just an old geezer for being irritated, because if I were younger, I’d be applauding his creativity. I’d admire his absolute rejection of norms. I’d be planning my own socio-cultural coup. 

But even though this is a kind of hilarious, and I really do admire his creativity, and I like to stick it to the man as much as anybody, this is just giving me a rash.

That’s because this is the kind of thing I see too much of lately – people using technology to avoid real life, to circumvent human decency, to behave badly and escape consequences.

People use social media to say things that shouldn’t be said. People use smartphones to avoid interacting or connecting face to face. People apply learned detachment to relationships, jobs, and personal responsibility. Just because you can do it, it doesn’t mean you should.

Just because his magical car can move from place to place without him, it doesn’t mean he’s not being lazy and selfish. Parking limits are in place to make life easier for all of us. Adhering to them is common courtesy. 

I’ve been using a machine to check out of reality all my life – it’s called the television. A thirty-minute sitcom is a great escape. A two-hour movie is awesome on a Friday night. And during my childhood, Saturday morning cartoons were the highlight of the week.

That’s not the way it works anymore. The screen isn’t an escape from the world, it has become the world. And it’s tiny compared to the real thing.

I don’t know what it is like for my kids to grow up with this technology, but I try to understand. They have access to a TV, a computer, and an iPad, and the 14 year old has a smartphone. I’m fighting an uphill battle teaching them to use these devices sensibly. 

I want them to comprehend the essential elements of life that happen between their intentions and the capabilities of their devices. Things like kindness, consideration, reputation, manners, integrity, service, love. I make them do chores, cook their own food, call their grandparents, pull weeds. We talk about how the same rules apply in real life and digital life. They sort of listen, so I’m hopeful. 

This year, I’ve asked Santa for a card shuffler and a new robe. And if anybody invents a car that reads minds and can spare me future carpool drama, I could definitely use one.

I wish our PT’s readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year. And I’m giving everyone a present: permission to put your smartphone away and really enjoy the holidays.

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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