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Moms' Talk: Let's Play 'Phone Stacking'

Also known as, put down the phones and let's talk.

With four smartphones in our family we have 24/7 access to Facebook, email, Words with Friends, texting and the Internet in the palm of our hand.  It is like a giant magnet pulling us into the world wide web of information!

Before all of us get totally addicted to these devices, if we haven’t arrived at the point of no return yet, we should sit back and figure out what is most important in our lives.  Is it our interpersonal relationships with our family, friends and coworkers or it is getting the next triple word score in Words with Friends?

I am as guilty as anyone else who is hooked on keeping in touch, keeping up to date and being in constant contact. Bob often has to remind me to put down my iPhone and be engaged in the activity that is going on right in front of me.

How do you extricate yourself from your smartphone?  Do you think it’s important to “show” your children that there are times when using a smartphone is OK and others when they are unnecessary and more directly forbidden?

I want to believe that people value their interpersonal relationships more than their web relations. Yet just looking around in stores, train stations, coffee shops and restaurants paints a different picture.

Three recent news stories caught my attention.  The first, reported on the nightly network news, quoted a study showing that walking with headphones on can be dangerous to your health.

Seriously, do we even need to be reminded of the dangers of this kind of behavior?  Walking down any street means cars, people, children, bicycles and warning alarms. With your ears plugged and your head filled with music and/or conversation even the best multi-tasker is putting themselves and others in danger. 

Do you talk with your children about safe use of their cell phones?

Recently, I had a discussion with the girls about texting and talking on the phones while walking down a street.  Being alert and focused while out and about is just plain smart. Preoccupation with texting and phone conversations make you vulnerable to any number of misfortunes.

More startling was a Yale Daily News report that the very popular “Introduction to the History of Art: Renaissance to the Present” course has been capped at 270 by Professor Alexander Nemerov, because, ‘“In the past many students in the lecture were doing Facebook or email or all kinds of things on their computers,” Nemerov said. “So for me it’s better if there’s a room where that is not possible, and one of the unfortunate effects of that is that I have to limit the enrollment of the class to the capacity of the auditorium,”’ said the article.

This is astounding to me.  After working so hard to gain admittance to Yale and then having to work diligently to keep up with the academic rigors I would not expect this kind of behavior from the students.  Yet, plugging in and keeping constantly in touch knows no bounds, obviously!

If I still have your attention there is one way to encourage you to disengage yourself from your phone.  This is a game anyone can play.  It is easy, it is safe and it is can yield big results if you just leave your phone alone.

"Phone stacking,” a game that forces people to interact with their companions, and not their devices, is gaining steam around dinner tables in the United States, Forbes reports.

All diners stack their cell phones in the center of a restaurant table.  If anyone uses the phone during dinner they pick up the tab. If all cell phones remain silent and untouched for the entire meal, the bill is split evenly.

Maybe we ought to make it a practice to check our devices at the entrance of the classroom, the hostess desk of the restaurant, and the entryway to our home.  This will force us all back to reality, making interpersonal and intellectual connections.  We may just find it to be as entertaining and enticing as what lies behind that screen of our smartphone ~ probably more entertaining!

Katie Ryan O'Connor January 25, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Great column!
Elissa Bass January 25, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Sarah, this is a great issue. I have to admit there are times when I am glad my teen is immersed in her phone, as I need to get something done. But we DO NOT allow phones at the family dinner table, and we do not allow them at restaurants (once the food is served, lol). At a family party earlier this month, I was appalled that my nephew was playing online poker on his phone while we were singing Happy Birthday to my 89-year-old father. Parents have to draw the line. And we have to behave as we want them to behave.
Carolyn Murphy January 25, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I know of a woman in Guilford who requires all of her children's friends to put their cell phones in a basket near the front door when they come over. I think that's a great idea. My son has a smart phone, but I won't go that route. I'll stick to my cheap flip phone, which suits me just fine.
Sarah Page Kyrcz January 25, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Elissa and Katie ~ Phones are forbidden at the dinner table, but they seem to have legs some evenings and there they are right where the main dish should be! It takes self control and vigilance to make sure cell phones are used appropriately by EVERYONE in the family. Hard to enforce rules when out with others who don't have the same rules are you do. But that happens with lots of other things, too, right?!?
Paul Petrone (Editor) January 25, 2012 at 09:39 PM
This isn't just a discussion for kids. It is for everybody. I think we all at times fall victim to being the jerk who is starring at their phone all too much (myself included). And I swear some people, full-grown adults, live half their life on Facebook. I wonder if all this texting and e-mailing and Facebook messaging is good because it keeps us connected (and really connected to who? People who we would never otherwise contact, which is like why would we care to be connected to them anyway), or if it is slowly turning us into a socially awkward, scared-of-the-world society. I guess it could be either depending on how you use it.
Suzanne Zitser January 25, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Great words of wisdom Sarah. I am probably one of the last dinosaurs that refuses to do Facebook. I will admit though my recent accident would have more huge than it was w/0 my I Phone!
Sarah Page Kyrcz January 25, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Paul ~ I completely agree. After writing this column I came across the following piece linking stress and cell phones. Really when you think of it, it makes sense. We all THINK we need to be uber-connected via FB, email, Twitter, etc. etc. We really need to be uber-connected with those who are near and dear to us and we can talk to face to face with. Those relationships are suffering because of our overzealousness to keep connected with all the other people in the periphery of our lives. http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/17/calmate-put-down-your-smartphone-to-feel-better/
Sarah Page Kyrcz January 25, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Carolyn ~ What DO those children do?!? JK. This is just a great idea. It forces the children to communicate the old-fashioned way - face to face. If more parents insisted on this we would all be better off. I don't love my IPhone, but I do not think I could do my work without it. Now I need to just use it for that and not for Words With Friends late into the night!! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Mom of 2 teens January 26, 2012 at 02:15 AM
I am like Carolyn's friend. When my daughter's friends come over they often spend their time texting other friends instead of visiting with her. No matter how many girls are over I take the phones and tell them to talk to each other. When we go on vacation, same rule applies. Leave your phones and go off together or read a book. Also, until they were in high school they were left in the charging station at 8pm nightly so no temptation to text late into the night. I joined Facebook for the sole reason of monitoring their accounts for safety. I have been amazed at how many teens are still posting at midnight and how cruelly they speak to each other. I strongly feel that since today's kids rarely speak to each other on the phone they don't hear how their words affect the other person. Tone of voice is open to misinterpretation via text/FB and causes many conflicts. While technology has its wonderful uses, I think as parents we need to talk to our children about being proper use and lead by example. Don't carry on loud conversations on your phone in public and please do not be disrespectful to people that are providing you a service (cashiers, hairdressers, bank tellers etc.) by expecting them to wait on you while while you ignore them and babble away. Let's start setting good examples for our children on basic proper manners.
Sarah Page Kyrcz January 26, 2012 at 10:03 PM
I had the most annoying experience in town today. I went into a store and it took the sales clerk about five minutes (OK it was probably less than that, but it felt way too long!) to even acknowledge me and ask if I needed any assistance. She was playing Words With Friends! We need to put down our phones and become more aware of our surroundings!
Andrew Kaplan January 26, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Five minutes or five seconds is TOO long. Great article but it's sad when the obvious needs to be stated. Once, I saw a family of three at a table with each person focused on their cell phone. I know adults that confess they no longer read, will we soon forget the wonderful art of conversation ? Cell phones don't belong at the table OR in the hands of working employees.
Sarah Page Kyrcz January 27, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Suzanne. I hope you are on the road to recovery and will be back in tip top shape soon. You hit on an important issue. When you really need a cell phone it is a wonderful way to communicate -good and bad news. Remember when they first came out and we had them "just for emergencies?" As for Facebook. Fun, yes. Informational, sometimes. Essential, never. Be wel!
Sarah Page Kyrcz January 27, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Andrew. This subject is not going away very soon. I see the rudeness and focus on "me, me, me" pervasive in our society. From cell phones to driving habits to overall behavior in society. Where have our manners gone?!?
Evan DeFrancesco January 28, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Very intriguing article, and spot on! Your "me, me, me" comment reminds me of the chapter called "An Army of One: Me", from Jean Twenge's book "Generation Me." It was a truly fascinating read! http://www.generationme.org/index.html
EB January 28, 2012 at 12:18 PM
My husband and I went to dinner last night at a very nice restaurant in town. I must've had this column on my mind, because I noticed right off how many people were on their phones at their tables! Across from us was a family of four - the teen daughter was using her phone the entire time. No conversation with her. Next to us, a family of 3 - the boy was on his phone and the parents sat in silence. A group of teen girls were celebrating a birthday at a large table - all on their phones (and talking at the same time)! We have to stop this!!! It is simply bad manners on top of everything else.
Sarah Page Kyrcz January 30, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Evan and EB ~ I believe that part of the problem with everyone being on their cell phones is that we have truly lost touch with our ability to communicate face to face and to extend ourselves. Our youth today are growing up with this attitude that the world revolves around them and if they perceive to have something more important to do (i.e. answer a text) while eating dinner or attending a party or visiting friends they will certainly answer that text no matter how rude it is. We need to get back to basics, spending quality time with important people in our lives and respecting others. How are we going to do that ~ that is the question!

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