Do you know that moment? When you pick your child up from school and they climb into your car and look up to meet your eye? After spending a long day struggling with school work and enduring the constant teasing and drama of classmates, there is this brief moment when they climb into the car with an unspoken desire to simply be welcomed…to see (just for a second) the delight their presence brings to your heart.
Not too long ago I was picking my son up from school. As I was waiting the phone rang. It was a client I’d been trying to reach all day. We had a motion that had to go out that afternoon, and I had been anticipating his call so I could incorporate his comments into the motion. I was still on the phone when the door opened and my son climbed onto the seat beside me. I finished the call as soon as I could and turned to greet my son, but the moment had passed. He was digging in his back pack for ear phones and pulled out his own cell phone to play Angry Birds for the ride home.
I can’t help but wonder what that was like for my son. He desperately wanted my welcome, and I was glued to my cell phone. How often do we as lawyers–subject to the tyranny of the urgent–leave those around us lonely and alone? And are there ways in which we (in our efforts to always be available for our work) unconsciously model for our children the very behavior that we find most irritating in them?
It drives me nuts when I’m with my kids, and I am competing with their friends’ text messages or the latest status update off of Facebook. I have a real desire for my children to be present when we’re together. But if I’m being totally honest, I often fail to model what that behavior looks like. There have been too many times when I’ve taken the call while we’re in the middle of a conversation or instinctively reached for the vibrating device on my hip to read an email during dinner–telling myself it’s o.k. because it’s “work.”
We certainly can’t turn the clock back 20 years to a time when no one had cell phones and there was no internet. And being responsive to those who have hired us to handle their legal problems is a critical part of what we do. However, we can begin to reflect on what is served by having an always-on, always-on-you, open-to-anyone-who-wants-to-reach-us way of life.
The issue, of course, is that we’re living in a digital world with prehistoric mind/bodies. Between our smartphones and the internet there is now no beginning and no end to the work week. We can (and frequently do) work 24/7 anywhere. And if we can work anywhere that means that our work is now everywhere.
Life, however, is more than merely working. Our bodies, minds and spirits are not designed to do 24/7. We are living in an age where our technologies are more sophisticated than our understanding of ourselves without the technologies. That’s the problem.
Sherry Turkle, the sociologist who is the director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at MIT, speaks about this in her book Alone Together. One of the things she advocates is the creation of sacred spaces–places where we set boundaries around the presence of our technologies. We can’t ban cell phones everywhere. Nor should we try. But we might be able to ban them from the dinner table. We certainly can carve out places in our daily life which we keep for ourselves and for those to whom we need and want to devote our attention. And, as Turkle explains, doing this is no longer simply a matter of choice. It is now a matter of survival. To make our lives livable we have to have places where we’re fully present to ourselves and each other. We cannot exist, psychologically or physically, without those boundaries.
A couple of weeks ago the New York Times Sunday edition ran an article on a YouTube video gone viral entitled I Forgot My Phone. When I last checked, it had over 22 million hits. If you haven’t seen it already, take a minute and watch it. It’s one of those funny/sad pieces that is an indictment of how this addiction of ours has affected our connections with each other.
And after that, let me hear how some of you are attempting to live more deliberately with these technologies and the ways in which you’re attempting to create sacred spaces where you can honor those things and those people who really matter in your life.
Just don’t email me from the dinner table.