She has been my trusted companion for a number of years now.

Always by my side, she is loyal and attentive, bringing me what I want at any time of the day or night, and even helping me discover things I didn’t know I needed in the first place.

Colourful and interesting, she is great company. It’s so easy to spend time with her; in fact, the hours slip by without my realising it. She helps me connect with old acquaintances, introduces me to new friends, and gives me a window into the highlights of their lives. Dressed for spring in dusty pink, she reminds me of my appointments, pays for my coffee, recommends music to listen to, and even helps me keep track of my children’s whereabouts. And during the Covid-19 lockdowns, her presence was a genuine lifeline. Sometimes she runs out of energy, but then I plug her in … and all is well.

I have to confess, I am disappointed by how often my phone distracts me from the present moment. I seem to have lost the art of waiting. In the coffee queue, in the doctor’s surgery, waiting for the checkout to become available, even when I’m queuing for the loo, a Pavlovian response causes my hand to reach for my phone. The odd thing is, there is generally no urgent need to check my messages, no important information to glean; I am simply checking Instagram, taking a look at WhatsApp messages, scrolling through posts or deleting emails. The phone has become a digital pacifier. And it feels so good.

Psychologists have coined the phrase ‘technoference’ to describe the phenomenon of our phones getting in the way of our relationships. We all too easily become an absent presence, physically in the room but distracted and inattentive to our friends, partners, and children.

One way to avoid being inattentive to what matters is to prevent the distractions happening in the first place. In this respect the reminder to ‘parent your phone’ packs a punch. In the same way that parents set the standards of behaviour in the home, including deciding when children go to bed, when they get up, where they go and when, we can control our phone, rather than the phone taking charge of us. We are the parents.

Some practical ideas to try include:
  • Keeping screens out of the bedroom.
  • Agreeing a ‘no phones at the meal table’ rule.
  • Going out for a walk and leaving your phone at home.
  • Turning off notifications.
  • Moving the most enticing apps off your home screen.
  • Turning the phone to greyscale – it seems so boring!
  • Loosening any love affair with emails and taking them off your phone.
  • Keeping the phone out of sight when not using it – as Superman found with kryptonite, the further away the better!

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