the best thing about being a grown-up

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We’re sitting on the couch. Working on a sewing project she’s doing or maybe coloring together.

“Mama, I think the best thing about being a grown-up is getting to have a phone.”

Dammit.

Last week, I wrote in my Who I Was in 2018 that I wished I had spent less time on my phone this year. Apparently, I was right on in that wish. Because the noticer of all noticers, our six-year-old daughter, thinks that the best thing about being a grown-up is getting to have a phone.

Never mind that I think it’s one of the worst things about being a grown-up. Never mind that old friends at dinner this week were wondering if phone use is our generation's smoking. Never mind that it's obligation plus self-imposed tethering and time-wasting in a seemingly inextricable tangle with actual practical convenience and honest-to-goodness connections with people you love.

What she sees is what I do. The actual amount of time holding that thing. The moments I check, check, check and need “one minute because I have to get this done.” The omnipresence of phones in every grown-up’s hand before we crank the car, before we get out of the car, when we get up from the table, when we’re headed to the bathroom, while we wait in line.

I’m sure I used to feel impatient when my mom talked on the phone to her sisters when I wanted her attention or presence. But that was a landline phone. And I feel like there’s something qualitatively different about hearing someone talking to a real live person on the other end. It’s just not the same as seeing someone’s head bent over, staring at a screen, punching buttons in some mysterious, toneless, asynchronous conversation. It seems like a bigger separation.

And hell, maybe that’s why we do it, right? So uncomfortable being in any given moment—especially the ones that stretch—that we reach for a psychological walling off.

People have researched this so much more thoroughly than I have. You’ve probably read many of the same articles I have. And if you know Cal Newport’s work at all, you’re likely thinking about this, too.

I just read this rad short article he wrote. In it, he talks about analog social media—basically scheduling more in-person social time this year so that you basically don’t have time for online social media.

I don’t do social media anymore, so I was thinking about The Letters Project in this context. I’ve said several times to you all that I’m both thrilled out of my mind to get started—and I’m also terrified. There’s a healthy dose of what-have-I-done going on over here. More than a few people have asked how on earth I’ll have time to do that.

But if you believe this article or this one, the time I spend each week on The Letters Project this year will be the same as or less than the weekly amount of time the average person spends on social media. It’s Cal Newport’s analog social media, maybe.

I wonder if any of these weeks in 2019 will include more hanging out with my kid together at her art table—her making yarn dolls and me addressing envelopes—and less standing at the kitchen counter bent over my phone while she sighs loudly in the “background.” I like the idea of that.

But wait.

My phone issues aren’t about social media anyway. And still my kid is saying that the best thing about being a grown-up is having a phone.

Crap. Even trying to write about this stuff is taking me down a rabbit hole. It’s complicated.

For me, some of this phone-tether is the stuff that didn’t fit into my day when our daughter was at school. The urgent emails. The quick texts to solve an issue. The stuff I meant to look up. The back-and-forth with a colleague, a student, the doctor. And Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It tells me I’m way not alone there.

And I’m wondering for the 745 millionth time, as leaders of organizations or extended families or volunteer groups or ensembles, how and when do we shut down vis-a-vis the external world for the day? Do we need to? Who and what do we let in to those suppertime and bedtime and weekend hours? Does it only matter if we have children who are watching us? What about how we operate around friends, partners, our parents and siblings? What makes sense in 2019?

I expect to do more tiny experiments in my own life around this in the coming year. I hope you’ll find them interesting or helpful or provocative. I hope you’ll let me know. I hope you and I both will walk through 2019 feeling that we are not alone—without constantly using our phones to prove it to ourselves.