When in “Roam”

I am sure I am already dating myself by using this olde-tyme phrase, but it makes sense to me.

Remember when we used to “roam?”

For those of you reading this who were born after (gulp) 1999, there once was a time that our mobile phones would declare we had strayed beyond the comfortable limits of our homeland. Or, more easily put, they would blink orange or red lights and display the phrase “Roaming.” The undesired side-effect of that status was an immediate decrease in device capabilities– you couldn’t use all the features of your phone. And, when you did- they were increasingly expensive. Think “airplane mode.”

The technological side of this was something like, you were outside your network, or you had a poor signal, or something like that. (This is the part where it becomes painfully obvious that I’m the ‘make it look pretty guy’, not the ‘tech guy’). Hang in there, I have a point.

Virtually every time you would jump in your car, or board the train or subway, your phone would move to the “Roaming” status. I, like everyone else, would be instantly enraged, longing for a better signal, a better network, and occasionally- a better device.

The unprescribed side-effect of that archaic technology was humans, from time-to-time, would put their device away, and look around, read a book, and sometimes (though rarely)- interact with other human beings.

Today, I am available. All the time. Or, at least my iPhone thinks I am.

I recently found a handy little setting on my phone that allows me to set ‘quiet hours’- times that I am unreachable. Because I value my five hours of evening respite, I created the times of 12:30 a.m. – 5:50 a.m. as my private time. How delightful, right?

CBS This Morning co-host John Dickerson recently experimented with attempts to “shut down” his screens: computers, tablets and mobile devices. It was painful to watch. Embarrassing, actually. A recent study found Americans look at their phones more than 40 times each hour. Oh, dear.

We Will Never Get That Time Back

I have two sons, ages 20 and 15. Occasionally, I impart my wisdom (frustration) upon them regarding their use (misuse) of their devices. And, I know I instantly sound like an old man. So be it.

When I sit down, after a long day, I have a choice to make: What will I do with my time?

My problem with their answer to that question is not that they spend time on their devices, but rather, what they are doing while on those devices. The time spent trolling Twitter, or Snapchat or Instagram is all reactive time, or- time that we allow others to orchestrate. If some Silicon Valley algorithms determine you should see this ad, or that article, that is what it sends to your eyeballs first. And, I am savvy enough to understand that those decisions are being made by algorithms- not human beings. And, certainly not by my sons.

Compare this arbitrary allotment of time spent on social media with the proactive decision to choose a novel or a newspaper or a book with a title or subject of interest, and investing a set amount of time with that content. Investing that time in a subject or topic. Undisturbed.

Now- I know, I know, books and articles and newspapers can all be read on tablets and devices. But, who chooses to first place their phones or devices on “silent mode” or “airplane mode” or “do not disturb.” None of us.

We think we need the disturbances. Because they are so important. Every employee checks email on the weekends. Every boss sends texts after hours. It’s dangerously similar to working around the clock.

Now, I am not suggesting that we abandon every device, and delete our social media accounts. However, perhaps we think twice when evaluating our “notifications.”

And- I apologize if the “alert’ of this blog post interrupted you today.