By Barton Goldsmith McClatchy-Tribune News Service
I recently checked into a hotel the night before I was giving a speech, just as I have a few hundred times before. This evening they asked me something I have never heard before: "Sir, would you like to check in your smartphone here at the front desk, so you won't be disturbed?" Wow, that's a new one.
I like to keep my phone with me. It's my lifeline to my family. I am pretty good at muting it before bedtime, but I can understand people needing to unplug for a few hours.
The experience got me thinking: What if we were to turn off our personal technology for an entire day? No phone, no computer, and no TV (just pray that football season is over). The kids would have to put down their iPad, and we would have to figure out how to be together without the beeps and buzzes that we almost no longer hear (unless it's our phone).
Another thing that technology has taken away from us is the ability to completely focus on what another person may be saying.
When we hear that text tone, our minds go straight to "Who could that be?" When a phone rings, we all go for our hips like gunslingers in the Wild West. We have learned to multitask, which isn't so bad unless we forget that, if we are engaged in a conversation, we need to remember that who we are with is just as important as whoever is on the other end of the phone.
For most folks, a quick glance at their device is all they need to refocus on what's in front of them. Unfortunately, others are compelled to answer every ring and to text back every message they receive. Some people have different ring tones for different people, which is a great way to avoid answering unnecessary calls. And most of us have learned not to bother answering when a toll-free number comes up.
But what about giving up technology for an entire day so that you could devote your attention to the loved ones in your life, the ones who deserve it most?
It used to be that when the power went out, we'd light a fire, some candles, and hang out. Now, unless your phone needs recharging, you can get through a blackout without missing an episode of your favorite show.
I'm not in favor of rolling back the clock and giving up technology, but I am suggesting that once in a while we all unplug and relate with one another instead of going online to chat. If you have good people around you, you can give your time and energy to them. If you don't, then it could be time to get out of the house or office and meet some friends.
We can get a lot of inspiration and entertainment from the people in our lives, if we take the time to connect and converse. So next time your phone runs out of power, consider that it may be a good thing.
(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time."