How to See What You're Missing

It's almost 8 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I'm sitting in a comfortable chair waiting for my chiropractor to come and adjust my hips and neck.  Normally I'd be on my phone, scrolling through whatever, but this morning I'm not.

Suddenly, a small black and white cat strolls by the ceiling-to-floor window on my right.  Tail up yet relaxed and gently waving, she's obviously alert and on the prowl, looking for her breakfast on this chilly morning.  I presume she's good at keeping the rodent population around the doctor's office under control.

Hmm.  Once my eyes see Kitty, I wonder what else I've been missing

busy cat

Without thinking

My husband Jon and I are pretty typical.  Our phones are always near, if not actually in our hands.  We've always got a reason for scrolling.  "I'm just checking something," Jon says to me, when I ask him if he can put his phone away while we eat breakfast.  "I just want to finish reading this article," I say when we really should be going out the door to get to an appointment.  "Just a minute."

This behavior is done without thinking, many, many times a day.

And we're pretty good at rationalizing it.  What else is there to do while we wait somewhere?  Email beckons, or the latest post on a favorite blog, or we just want to Google something (almost always something that just popped into our heads, rather than a question we've been pondering for a while).

My middle grandson Damien asks for a story, and brings one of his favorite books for me to read aloud.  He practically knows this one by heart, but when I glance over at him his serious brown eyes are fixed on me.  Does he always look at me so intently?  I wonder what else I've been missing.

How long has that been going on?

My husband is driving both of us to Sacramento, and we're going through an area of walnut orchards.  They're in full autumn mode – aisle upon aisle of large, golden-leafed trees, sun shining through a very light fog to set them aglow.

Walnut trees take several weeks to lose their summer green, and they're some of the last trees to do it.  Last I looked, they had barely started their transformation.  How had I missed this?  Riding passenger side, I'd usually be checking email, my blog stats, or maybe browsing on Amazon.  The orchards had changed without my noticing because my eyes were looking somewhere else.  Today I stare outside, and wonder what else I've been missing.

We all do it.

Together... yet not
I read somewhere about a photography series called Removed, by American artist Eric Pickersgill.  He set up scenes where people focused on their phones, but before taking their pictures, the phones were removed from their hands.  In these eerie pictures, the subjects' focus remains where their phones had been.

The images show our fascination with these devices.  The people are together, but not actually present with each other.  Their attention has been stolen by something designed to be addictive.

I think the reason we respond so strongly to these images is that they're true.  We've all seen this exact behavior.  As I sit in the car waiting for Jon to run a quick errand, I watch the people in the parking lot around me.  A mother and her two school-aged children walk by.  The kids are chattering to each other, seemingly engaged.  The mother is holding her phone, her eyes glued to the screen as they walk.

It's the setup for a Pickersgill image.  If I mentally remove her phone, it's exactly like.

Now, maybe there's something urgent she needs to attend to.  I shouldn't judge.  But how often are my eyes on my phone when it isn't urgent?  Most of the time.  I think about that, and wonder what else I've been missing.

So much temptation

I own an iPhone, just like more than a billion other people in the world.  And the symbol on the back of the phone is an apple with a bite out of it.  Someone made the point that for a Christian like me, that could be seen as a symbol for temptation.  And many of us are constantly tempted to check our phones – when we're bored, distracted, or tired of listening to someone else.

We Americans believe we're free, yet we have so little control over our own impulses.  If we can't control our choices and actions, are we really free?  Who or what is actually in charge?

I used to be very intentional about my phone, but that changed so gradually I hadn't noticed.  Like the frog in a pot of water brought ever so slowly to a boil, I haven't done enough to help myself.

Don't miss out on your life just because you're too busy scrolling through someone else's.
Mel Robbins

If my phone-related choices continue the way they've been going, I know exactly what I'll be missing – my life.

Cherish the moments.

Life is full of moments that only happen once in real time.

  • My boyfriend proposing over the phone, because he's been working in Denver and I'm in Sacramento, and he's hoping we'll get married before he accepts a job that entails another long-distance move in just ten weeks.  (We were married, ten weeks and one day later, more than 39 years ago.)
  • My sister practically falling on the floor laughing because my 2-year-old daughter said, "Oh no, Mama, I had fachunts."  Jennifer couldn't believe I'd taught Elizabeth to say "flatulence" instead of "fart."

  • Overhearing my son demonstrate his reading skills for the first time when I had no idea he could.  He was going on 5, and had taught himself by listening as I homeschooled his older sister.

These and others are moments we miss if our attention is focused elsewhere.  So take a minute today and consider who really has the power in your relationship with your phone.  If it's not you, maybe it's time for a change.

You don't know what you're missing until you look.

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  1. Ah, Karen, you've identified those relentless time-stealers, the stream of "tyranny of the urgent" posts and distractions that crowd out the important things in our lives. It's all because of those little computers (phones) in our hands. Thank you for so humbly and concisely reminding us that we must consciously look up and notice all the life around us! No one makes me THINK like you do--and I truly appreciate that!

    1. When I was a kid (and a teenager, and a young adult), it was pure science fiction to imagine carrying around a computer as small and as powerful as what we have in our hands today. Now we have to figure out how to use it well. With so many of us thinking and talking about it, I believe that we will... eventually.


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