I was running errands the other day, walking down Park Avenue South when I stopped at a corner. No big deal- that’s what you do when walking the city streets- you stop at the corner. The only difference was, I could see the westbound street was closed to traffic- there would be no car intersecting my path. Yet I stopped anyway. Why? Because I did it by rote- 30 years of crossing streets in New York – I stop at the corners.
I think certain aspects of repetitive behavior are fine- brushing teeth, washing hands…..I even believe that school kids should be taught to memorize the times tables (in my mind 5×5=25- I know there is a reason for that, but at the end of the day, 5×5=25 is 5×5=25, because it is. I don’t want to hear they need to show work, or draw 5 groups of 5 sticks, or be told it’s OK if they got the wrong answer as long as the work is right- tell that to a boss when the till is constantly off- “I know I gave out the wrong change- but my process was right) Oh wait- I digress- where was I?
Rote. Unconscious behavior. Doing an action without even thinking about it. When I wake up in the morning I look at my phone- reflexively. I check the time, I check the message bar for texts, emails or missed calls. I check the weather. I just do it without thinking.
How often to you unconsciously pick up your phone to check, let’s just say, the time? There are times we legitimately need to know the time- but most of the time, do you just reflexively do it?
This past weekend, Husband and Daughter spent some time at a relatives rented beach house. This family consists of 3 kids, 12 and under and Mom and Dad. The beach house had a pool complete with floats and pool toys, a tennis court and a foosball table- I think there was even a basketball hoop. There was a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle open on the table, a bunch of board games on a shelf. There were plenty of things to do.
My family went out to play tennis. When they got to the court they realized there was a wasp infestation on the court. Even though the host family had been there a week, no one had gone out to the tennis courts- they had no idea there were so many bugs you couldn’t play.
Daughter wrote up a foosball round robin tournament schedule. There would be no prizes- just everyone playing the same game at the same time. This was met by a chorus of “Oh- I don’t know” and “Maybe later”. Eventually, she got the young boys to play. But not the girl or the parents.
When they went out to dinner, the host family just pulled out their cell phones the moment they sat at the table. My Husband tried to talk to the other Guy- but other guy was staring at his screen. There was no actual conversation. The only utterances were the Mom telling the kids what they could, and more often, could not eat. “Stop eating bread. No- you can’t get the ribeye- it has too much fat.”
Now- I wasn’t there for this meal- I was happily cleaning my apartment, watching our pets…..so how can I recreate this scene? Because this family is on autopilot- they do the same thing every time they are anywhere. They might all be in the same room, but they are acting as individuals, not a family unit. They sit down, they pick up their electronic device. They don’t talk. It is habit.
What a habit. Sit down with your family and pick up your phone. I think that will be my New Years resolution. I mean really, what’s the point of vacation if you need to talk to the other members of your family. jigsaw puzzles? Who does those anymore? (you can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand- but our tradition is a winter holiday jigsaw puzzle- but I’m digressing again…)
Does a family need to play games together to be happy? Do a Mom and Dad need to go into the pool with the kids? Does a family need to talk to one another? Or should we all just be on autopilot, looking at one another, but not seeing. Hearing one another, but not listening. Sharing space with people, but not sharing lives. Picking up our phones because they are there, that flashing screen is infinitely more interesting…..
And I love my smart phone. I love my ipad. I often look at them because they are there, because it is learned behavior. But maybe picking them up should be done consciously, when I have a legitimate reason- like reading all your blogs……