Presence in the Digital Age by Jaimmie Stugard

Our phones are now indelibly bound up with our aesthetic souls.

 And today, both are always on.” Robert Capps, WIRED

             A couple of years ago, my husband asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day.  I told him that all I wanted was to wake up in a tidy house and go to bed at night in a tidy house and that I did not want to clean on that particular Sunday.  He looked at me and said, “Can’t I just get you a smart phone?” “No thanks,” I laughed,  “I don’t need a distraction in my pocket.” Honestly, I was never really attracted to the device.  I learned to like my simple, small flip phone that made calls and received calls and not much more.   

            There I was, a named Luddite in the heart of the digital age. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be gazing at their little computers—drivers at stoplights, moms at the park, kids at restaurants, friends in social settings.  With a tip-tap and a swipe you could get directions, watch an inane video, find an answer, listen to a song, buy an….anything.  All on the tiny little computer that you keep in your pocket.  But, it seemed to me that most often,  people were filling a brief moment of relative inactivity out of a compulsion to produce, consume, network—constantly to be busy and entertained.

            Of course, there are also clever conveniences, ways our phones help us feel connected with each other, particularly in an era where families and friends are dispersed far and wide across the world.  Personally, I like sharing candid photos of the children at play.  But, what about those we are with right now? What about our compulsion to check our phones while we are tucking our children in at night or during a meal? As a mom, it is clear to me how addictive screen time is for children.  When the screens are off, they are begging for more, and it is clear (by their behavior) that it takes them a while to recover from the exposure.  I am a grown person, but honestly, sometimes my phone feels like Gollum’s Ring.     

            This little glowing rectangle, that promises us endless creative and expressive potential, is all too often (literally) between us and our children.  We are documenting their development and sharing it with the wide world.  But we, ourselves, aren’t able to truly experience these moments because we aren’t completely present.  And when our children look up to us in their big moments, they want to see our faces and our arms outstretched in a welcome embrace, not our phones poised to digitize the Great Milestone and send it to the cloud.   

            So, here I am, a modern woman coming to terms with her vices and her devices.  I know my phone has a million capabilities and at least a half a dozen useful ones.  I know the answers are at my fingertips.  But, I enjoy discourse and pondering, feeling lost and finding my way.  Of course, I’ll continue to use the internet, text and share photos now and then, as long as it doesn’t interfere with being here and now.

Jaimmie Stugard has been a caregiver at the Milwaukee LifeWays for over ten years.  She is grateful that she is able to bring her own little ones with her to LifeWays each day.  She is also the music teacher in the Wisconsin LifeWays Training.

For more on the subject, read or listen to:

“For the Children’s Sake, Put Down that Smartphone” by Patti Neighmond

“When Parents are the Ones too Distracted by Devices” by Steve Henn