To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade

My husband and I deliberately jumped off the runaway train of technology about 7 years ago. Facebook: not my friend. Twitter: bull-tweet. And most of all, NO DEVICES. By devices, I mean Blackberries, iBrains, etc. One small handheld machine functions like an imaginary friend, a security blanket, and crack all rolled into one. Devices promise escape from social anxieties and awkward silences — whip it out as soon as the conversation is at a lull and breathe a sigh of relief as you massage its keys and retreat inward. Bored? Don’t worry, there is no need to reflect on your life or your eternity, just inhale the stimulation from your device now and everything will be OK.

I always feel a little deflated when I am in someone’s presence and the device hops out. I just couldn’t compete with it.  Maybe there is important business to be transacted, or maybe that picture just had to be captured and emailed into space, but maybe not. Maybe we could have just been together for a while as we had planned to be.

And all this extra traffic and interconnectedness creates such clutter. In the last 6 months, I have officially reached my personal saturation point — my mind and my calendar and my heart are very, very full. My goal these days is to declutter my mind and my calendar, to reclaim some time and mental space, so that I can live this vocation of the heart more completely. Having the internet at one’s fingertips 24/7 can’t possibly facilitate that.

But, like all good consumers, my husband and I are grappling with our principles when presented with tantalizing upgrade options.  Wireless companies are not in the business of preserving our way of life.  AT&T’s regular cell phone upgrade options are actually a downgrade: in fact I think they are refurbished versions of a car phone I had 10 years ago. However, the sparkling iPhones and Blackberries are free with a $15/month data plan… they beckon… for just $15/month, you could deal with emails while your kids play at the playground… you could research family restaurants and deals en route from a Sunday family outing… you could send images of all these precious moments to the grandparents in real time, or even make grandparents virtually present with Skype…

But is it good to be so interconnected, so digital, so busy, and to live one step ahead of the present moment instead of in it? When my middle children are occupied at the playground, I COULD get a lot done… but I also can play with my baby uninterrupted, or if he’s napping and it hits me that all is quiet, I might even be able to pray there in the sunshine. And some spontaneity and some confusion, rather than knowing steps A-Z, make for some of the best family memories. And true friendships are those where the conversation can lull and each others’ presence is enough, without a go-to device. And do my children need to feel like they have to compete with a device for my attention? I could see myself becoming the fastest draw in the West.  When they’re teenagers being lured by iEverything, I want them to remember that I sacrificed technology to be with them when they were little.

So, upgrade or not? AT&T is trying to force our hand.

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  • Brynne

    There are many reasons I love my smart phone, which I also resisted. I have a much better shot at getting the volunteer slots at my kids’ school, since they fill up within 15 minutes of an email being sent out. u00a0I still miss them, but sometimes I do get to help. u00a0I have this navigation thing my husband set up and it *talks* to me while I drive so I don’t have to look at it. u00a0Now I don’t get lost anymore since I am probably in the top ten for world’s most pathetic navigator. u00a0I also send my husband pictures of the kids throughout the day, which he checks at hisu00a0convenience. u00a0If I need to look up a phone number or operating hours, I can. u00a0If one of the kids is having an off day where we’re having to wait for some reason, I can let them play Uno on my phone. u00a0Sometimes it’s worth the screen time to avoid a major problem. u00a0Oddly enough, they usually are not interested in playing with my phone at all. u00a0I choose when to use my phone and often turn it off entirely. In a world where we’re increasingly expected to be connected and people communicate as if we all are, it’s nice to have the choice to check my email on a day where I’m not home.u00a0n

  • Mary Alice

    Here is why I have to have a phone with email:u00a0 little league gets cancelled over email, sometimes at the very last minute.u00a0 I know that this seems stupid, but sometimes I am out of the house all day shuffling kids to activities, and baseball is the last one of the day.u00a0 Sometimes it is not actually raining, and I would not psychically know that the fields have been deemed “unplayable” by the rec department.u00a0 I have shown up for cancelled practices and then had to call my husband at work who confirmed that yes, an email was sent out a few hours ago cancelling.nnSecond point, my husband sits in the quiet train for his commute, so he can send me a message but not call me.u00a0 nnThird, it is a huge, huge help to have GPS.u00a0 Don’t ask Red the number of times I have gotten lost going to her house.nnFourth, it means that I always have a book with me, and a chapter book for my kids.nnI am on facebook and twitter.u00a0 I don’t love either one, but I do like seeing what college friends and my distant relatives are up to.u00a0 I got on because I wanted to have it figured out before my kids wanted to use it.u00a0 I know enought about FB to know that it will be a while before I let any of my kids gets accounts.

  • I love this post!u00a0 I think it’s a balance that looks different for every family.u00a0 My husband and I decided together that we would not join facebook when it became popular.u00a0 We didn’t want old flames and long lost friends that the other didn’t know to start interacting with either of us.u00a0 Some of our family resents that we can’t “stay connected”, but we’re ok with that because we feel there is more value in safeguarding our marriage than seeing so-and-so’s christmas tree the minute it is assembled!u00a0 We find other, old-fashioned ways of keeping in touch (phone, email, etc.).u00a0 We don’t twitter either.u00a0 Just email with friends.u00a0 My husband has a basic phone, and I have a smart phone but only because my father works for a large cell phone company and I’m on his plan.u00a0 Thank Goodness because I would NEVER pay monthly fees in upwards of $80-100/month for service for just one phone!u00a0 I do like to text my husband, my mom, and a few friends on a daily basis, but I do not surf online unless I am out and absolutely have to.u00a0 I find it difficult and would rather wait until I’m home on my laptop.u00a0 I think the promises of technology go hand in hand with the cons, such as you mentioned.u00a0 Less quality time with our loved ones at the expense of our devices.u00a0 Major expense!u00a0 Anyway, those are my thoughts.u00a0 I hear ya!

  • LMG

    Hi JM–nnYou know that Mr. G and I struggle with this issue as well.u00a0 Until a few months ago, we could have written your post together, except probably less witty.u00a0 THEN, it became apparent that he really needed a device for work.u00a0 So he took the plunge.u00a0 For the first few weeks, he was checking email far more often than necessary and enticed by his new aps.u00a0 Once he noticed this new behavior, he made a conscious effort to mortify that curiosity now and the “device” is a great part of our family life.u00a0 It helps us avoid traffic and find good restaurants regularly.u00a0 That said, I have not taken the plunge….but only because I think the monetary cost ($40/month for us) is not worth the upside. nnLong story short–ask yourself–is mortifying that email itch something you want to battle every day?u00a0 If no, stay in the dark ages with me.u00a0 It’s kind of fun to have to talk to people. nnLMG

  • JMB

    I have a Blackberry and I love it.u00a0 Everything with my children’s schools are now done via email or text.u00a0 We are at three different schools.u00a0 I often check my email when I’m standing on the check out line at the grocery store or waiting to pick a child up at ballet or CCD, or send a quick text to my carpool if I’m running late. It’s nice not to be tethered to my computer all day.

  • Jurismater

    Second Chances, you have got me wondering… if someone gave me a device and the plan for FREE, never any cost at any point, would we go for it? Because that’s when it would completely be a matter of principle to say no. I think, just maybe, I’d take the device and, as you and LMG suggest, start from the very beginning using it almost always as a phone only.nnI guess that’s a lot of what it comes down to. If I got the device thinking “finally I can have internet access all the time, and I’d better get my money’s worth, now where to begin…”, it’s going to be a free-for-all. But if the approach is “this is still a cell phone, to be used for texts and quick internet research when necessary”, maybe it would be manageable.

  • Jurismater

    Oh yeah, and same reasons for us on not doing Facebook. Also, it’s just an endless, infinite time drain. Even blog reading stops somewhere, there are a finite amount of posts on my favorite blogs. Facebook is the song that never ends.

  • Jurismater

    Wow, bravo to you and Mr. G for welcoming a device and for being so intentional about it. It helps to hear what it’s contributing to the life of your family.nnYou sure gave me something to think about in your last paragraph… it might be a pretty heroic struggle for me not to use it as a crutch. And I say we’re not in the dark ages, we’re flourishing in our Renaissance.

  • Yes, I’m definitely one of those people who wants to “get my use out of things”, especially if I’m paying big bucks.u00a0 So I would feel pressured to use it often.u00a0 But you may find that, with some use of a smart phone, they’re not as convenient as you’d like.u00a0 For some things, definitely, like getting email alerts (which I only get a few a day anyway and usually don’t reply to) or gps.u00a0 But overall, the screen is too small and I’m forever tapping the wrong thing!u00a0 It’s just a pain to me, so it’s for talk and text and photos of the kids if we’re out doing something fun.u00a0 That’s about it.u00a0 I also don’t buy apps because it’s on my dad’s account and I don’t want to charge him, so that helps as well!u00a0 That all said, my husband has a “basic” phone with a keyboard that he uses and enjoys just fine for talk, text, and photos.u00a0 No extra fees every month.u00a0 So that’s always a good option.u00a0 Good luck with your decision!u00a0 I know the temptations are so strong.

  • So I’ve heard!u00a0 I have stay-at-home moms who say they’re on it all day long and I think, “that can’t be good!”

  • Kat

    JM, I can understand your hesitations about the I-Phone – I had many of them myself, and have just recently upgraded from my super-basic cell to the I-Phone. I have to say that it has been great, for many of the same reasons that others have already mentioned. You can choose to use it as little or as much as you want – truly, many times I leave the house and have forgotten my phone, which shows that I am not attached by any means. However, I appreciate the GPS feature, especially when we are on vacation, the weather feature, having access to email on days when we are away from the house, and being able to text, which I really couldn’t do before.u00a0nIn terms of Facebook, I just joined a couple of months before, mainly because our son’s school and my moms’ groups are on FB and distribute information through it. I have been terrible about uploading any pictures of our family or doing anything with my page – it hasn’t been a big deal at all in terms of being a time drain. I guess each person just needs to know her own personality and be the judge of whether FB is going to be a positive or negative force in her life.u00a0nSomeone else mentioned that she got an I-Phone and joined FB so that she could be ahead of her children on the technology front – I feel the same way! There is no avoiding the fact that our children are growing up in a technological age, and I want to know what they will be dealing with and really understand it before they get there!

  • Kj_marshill

    We have cell phones so old that they don’t even have text capability. I’m thinking about getting rid of mine, simply because I don’t NEED it, but since it is there, I call someone whenever I have a free moment. Instead of praying or talking with the kidlets. I have an addictive personality, and I would use it more than needed if I had something fancy. BC, by the way, is one of two blogs I let myself check every day. 🙂

  • B-mama

    Thanks for your readership, KJ!n

  • B-mama

    The biggest thing that irritates me about smart phones, texting, etc. is when the kids and a I are out at our children’s museum having fun and I look over and see deadbeat mom (one of many) ignoring her children while on her phone! u00a0There is no escaping the phone!!! u00a0One of the main reasons we are there and having so much fun is that I am unplugged and engaging with my children. u00a0I can’t always say that’s the case when we’re home. u00a0And I can’t say that I wouldn’t be a deadbeat along with them if I had a smart phone too!nnWith any technology, clear, disciplined lines need to be drawn in terms of usage–at home, out in the car, etc. u00a0If you need help with directions, get a GPS. u00a0We did and it has saved me in so many situations!nnI can’t justify the pricetag with the limited amount of usage I would get from it. u00a0And I can’t take the plunge into the potential temptation it would be. u00a0For now, I’m happy with my $5/mos 250 texts. u00a0It is enough. u00a0nnThe one thing I miss–the iCalendar at my fingertips and the potential to sync it with GG’s cal and be on the same page more often. u00a0THAT would be amazing!

  • Kathleen

    Just made the switch from the most basic cell to an iPhone. The plus to this ipieta. It’s an app with so many prayers, catholic writings, gospel etc that I’ve found myself reading so much more. I also feel more organized, using the calendar, address book, and the map app rocks! But there are downsides. I feel more plugged in and more tempted to be distracted. I really dislike that and I need to rein it in. I’d say don’t get it if you don’t want another media management struggle.

  • Jurismater

    This helpful discussion and a little nudge at my circle this afternoon… and I’m going to get a pocket New Testament instead of a pocket device. I don’t read Scripture nearly enough. And I knowu00a0I’d have such a difficult time resisting constant use of a device–it’s my personality. Thank you all for the very excellent discussion. This forum is such a blessing.

  • JMB

    JM, when my daughter was pressing me for an i-reader, she said “if I had one I’d read all the time!”.u00a0 So I said, then start now, without the i-reader.u00a0 Show me how much you will read.u00a0 That being said, it sounds like you are somewhat troubled by the distraction that a smart phone would cause for you.u00a0 Forgive me for being so bold, but if you are using the “I will pray more if I’m not checking my email at the park” excuse, then pray more now.u00a0u00a0 nnAnd as for the moms in the children’s museum who are on their iphones, what gives you the confidence to assume that the business on the phone isn’t important?u00a0 It seems a little presumptuous to me.u00a0 Just yesterday, on the way to dinner with my husband, I learned that a classmate of one of daughter’s lost her sister.u00a0 Would it have been better if we had a nice dinner out and then learned of this tragedy?u00a0 I don’t know about that.u00a0 nnSometimes I think it’s ok to question what you don’t have and why that is so, but other times it sounds like excuses and fear.u00a0 And you should never make a decision based on fear. n

  • Lisa

    I’m chiming in after you’ve made your decision, but my suggestion would’ve wholeheartedly been to skip the smart phone.u00a0 There’s nothing wrong with them — but I’m a big fan of *need* dictating our moves towards technology, NOT availability.u00a0 I think there are many individuals who need such phones – I have a great friend who’s the primary breadwinner for her family, and it helps her tremendously to have the flexibility to leave the office early and spend an afternoon with her kids, knowing she can check e-mail from her phone just as easily as she could from the office, and thus she can get away to spend extra family time.u00a0 There was a post on this blog last week about using an iPad to give mom time to focus at church.u00a0 In both of these cases, there’s a need/benefit to having the technology — there’s nothing wrong with using technology if there’s a benefit to you/your family.nnBut what I read in your post is that you and your family are thriving in a less technologically-oriented world.u00a0 That is lovely!u00a0 Again, nothing wrong with using technology to supplement family functioning, but if you don’t need to introduce a big distraction into your family live (and at the end of the day, while there are great features to smart phones, I think everyone would agree they’re also ripe with huge potential distractions as well), I’d say skip it.u00a0 If and when you feel the need to adopt the newer phone, do it — but let *your need*, and your own decision-making drive that choice, not AT&T!nnBTW, a feature you can use with non-smart phones that’s super helpful — you can text google.u00a0 The # is 46645.u00a0 If you’re on vacation, for example, and you want to need to find a Walgreens near where your hotel, for example, you’d text: Walgreens Virginia Beach, VA and google will text you back a listing of all the Walgreens in the city, with their phone numbers and addresses.u00a0 I have a smart phone, and find it is so much easier/faster to text google than to go online, wait for to load, search for Walgreens, etc.u00a0 You can use it for weather — simply type in weather and your zip code or name of city — e.g., I’d enter: weather 10022.u00a0 There are probably other things you find texting google – but these are teh ones I’ve used . . .

  • Lisa

    Hi JMB,nnI think you’re reacting to the comment about the “deadbeat moms” at the museum in the same way that I did.u00a0 But that wasn’t in Jurismater’s post – that was in a subsequent comment.u00a0 I agree with you that it behooves us to withhold judgment of other moms.u00a0 I don’t know what it is about moms – there’s often such a sense of competition – to be the most organized/authentic/selfless/etc.u00a0 Sigh.nnI’d take a different view from you that “you should never make a decision based on fear.”u00a0 I think JM’s plan sounds like a good one – she knows herself well and is inclined to believe that if she gets this phone, she’ll be more distracted, less present.u00a0 Thus, she’s deciding not to buy the phone.u00a0 That makes perfect sense to me.u00a0 I know the challenges I have with portion control.u00a0 There’s nothing inherently wrong with purchasing sweets and having them in your home, but in my case, since I know myself well, and know I’m not inclined towards restricting delicious things to moderation, I don’t have them in my house.u00a0 I’m not suggesting other people shouldn’t have them in their homes, but my “fear” as you might describe it, aka self-awareness as I’d describe it, keeps me from buying them for my own home.

  • Lisa, that texting Google thing is the COOLEST thing I’ve ever heard of!u00a0 Thank you so much for posting this!u00a0 I just tried it and it works beautifully.u00a0 Soooo much faster than getting online with my tiny screen and trying to fish around for what I’m looking for.u00a0 And I have a smart phone!u00a0 I don’t feel so smart using it.u00a0 My husband doesn’t and I know this will help him tremendously.u00a0 Thank you again!

  • JMB

    My apologies to JM.u00a0 Yes, you are correct that that comment struck a cord in me.u00a0 It reminded me of all the times in my life as a mother that I’ve read a situation all wrong – the friend who I thought was a friend turned out to be a vicious gossip and the nerdy mom who I had written off ends upu00a0 becoming a true friend.u00a0 As I’m getting older, you’d think I’d get better and better at making snap judgments but the truth is, I know so little about other people’s lives.u00a0 I know so little about their sufferings and their joys.u00a0 I feel like I know less and less each year.