Stop Telling Me To Put My Smartphone Down

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune.

If women can have it all, and I believe we can, it’s thanks in large part to our smartphones.

So stop telling us to put them away.

On a recent Friday I had a 9 a.m. meeting with an author in the Chicago’s Loop area downtown, followed by an 11 a.m. interview at my office. On the 15-minute walk from the Loop to the Tribune, I accomplished the following on my phone:

-Paid my daughter’s Girl Scouts fee.

-RSVP’d yes to a birthday invitation for my son.

-Refilled three prescriptions at Walgreens.

-Arranged a photo shoot with a man I interviewed two days prior.
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-Answered an email from my editor.

-Texted a friend to meet for lunch this week.

-Scheduled a dentist appointment for my son.

I don’t text while I’m crossing streets, and I’m careful not to run into my fellow pedestrians. And still, without fail, strangers scold me.

“Put your phone down,” a man scowled at me near Jewelers Row that Friday.

When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, a guy waiting behind me in line for a cab tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Are you waiting for a cab or playing with your phone?”

“Both,” I answered, then went back to playing with my phone. (I was actually trying to Google Map my way to Greenwich Village.) What’s it to him? I wasn’t holding up the line.

Everything I do on my phone while I’m walking or waiting is another thing I don’t have to do when I’m with my kids.

If that means I sometimes fail to take in the gleaming white facade of the Wrigley Building as I walk north over the Michigan Avenue Bridge, well, so be it.

If that means I occasionally walk across Randolph Street heading south, duck my head and don’t look up again until the Art Institute, brushing right past Millennium Park’s jewels, well, I’ll catch them another time.

If that means the sights, sounds and charms of my beloved city whirl around me while I’m buried in the Walgreens app, eh.

I put my phone down. I look up. I take it all in. But I do it on my own timetable. Usually when I’m with my kids. Or my husband. Or my friends. People, that is, whose favor I’m actively trying to retain and who need and deserve my undivided attention.

(Man near Jewelers Row, you don’t need my undivided attention. You need to mind your own business.)

Other people’s lives, obviously, fall into very different rhythms from mine. Which is why I never turn a judgmental eye toward the parents who are on their phones at the park (or the floor hockey lesson, recital intermission, bounce house birthday party place).

I don’t know what else their day entailed.

Maybe they spent the entire day feeding, enriching and screen-free entertaining young children, and this is their lone 15-minute window to make appointments/check Facebook/send out birthday party Evites. Maybe they left the office early to hang with their kids, and they’re tying up one final loose end. Maybe they’re emailing their partner a grocery list.

Does it really matter?

Increasingly, having it all means fitting “it” in wherever and whenever you can. For that reason, smartphones are a godsend.

They also deserve some of the heat they get, for tempting us to text when a face-to-face conversation is in order, for turning us into distracted drivers and so on.

But a person using a phone is not necessarily a person misusing a phone.

Let’s keep that in mind and cut each other a little slack.

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