BE SMARTER THAN A SMARTPHONE
Today you are no longer the only eleven-year-old in San Francisco without a Smartphone.
Today it’s your 12th birthday, and Papi and I have decided to give you my old Iphone 6 because we trust you and see that you are responsible. This phone comes to you with a list of 13 instructions to follow (one for each of your 12 years and one to grow on).
But, before I hand the phone and the list over to you, I want you to understand the one reason why I have feared giving you a Smartphone: I do not want to lose you as an active participant in life.
With this phone, you are not allowed to turn into a passive clicker or blasé swiper of life. You must continue to do all the things you have done and enjoyed until now without it. Be smarter than your smartphone: turning it off enables you to tune in better to real life.
Three years ago, I took you to an Apple store in Manhattan to trade in my old Ipad for a newer model. You love any excuse to go to an Apple store. So, you came with me even though you knew the mission was to buy something for me and not you.
We browsed the slick, minimalist interior of the Apple store that displayed products like jewels, and I watched you salivate. I bought the Ipad and you walked out empty-handed.
You burst into tears when we left the store, which was unusual behavior for eight-year-old-you who often saw logic in moments when other children did not. You explained to me that the temptation of the high-speed technology, the flashy screens, the glossy cases, the amplified speakers, and the slick design destroyed you. You wanted it all but knew you couldn’t have any of it. And it made you explode with rage, desire and materialistic longing.
Your reaction scared both of us: we both saw how powerful these objects can be in luring us to the point of senseless addiction.
You recently read Ernest Cline's “Ready Player One,” and you were dying for me to love it, too. I tried, but I struggled. I was depressed by the involvement of the main characters thriving in a virtual reality. I didn’t care about artificial intelligence; I wanted real intelligence in real life. And I wanted you to value that, too.
We saw the movie together as a compromise to my not being able to get through the book, and we talked about it at length afterwards. I was happy to see you appreciate that even though the central love story may have hatched in a virtual reality, it, ultimately, transferred to and thrived in real life.
Just a few more things, before you power on your new phone:
To my regret, you are absolutely right that I am addicted to my Iphone. And so is Papi. Most adults these days are, and we set no example for you. I recently installed an app on my phone that tracks how much I use it during the day. You’ll see that I’ve installed that same app on your phone, too. You’re welcome.
I won’t always be able to see what you are doing on this phone and that frightens me. But I trust you to trust my supervision of your use and call you on it if something isn’t right.
I want to encourage you to use your phone for things that can only enhance your childhood:
Listen to music. Make a playlist for a friend, a girlfriend or someone you care about. Explore all the different genres of music that interest you. Be inspired by those who play the saxophone or the mandolin like you and learn from them.
Tune into the bounty of extraordinary podcasts out there by writers, journalists, scientists, doctors, musicians, diplomats, inventors, athletes and other sorts who may not be a part of your world but might inspire you to become part of theirs.
Learn languages. Perfect your Italian, learn more Spanish, and take on another language through Duo Lingo.
Play brain-teaser games. You and I have always loved doing the New York Times crossword puzzles together. Let’s play Words with Friends now.
Use a journaling app. You are a writer. You may not know it yet but I see it with the fluidity and ease with which you write, both in English and in Italian. You can tell a funny story in both languages – on paper and in person. Channel all this into a journaling app if you prefer that to pen and paper.
Take photographs. And print them to paste in albums. A couple of months ago, we visited Point Reyes for the first time. You and I spent the day taking photographs with my Iphone8. The result was a beautiful montage of your eyes and mine combined. Promise me we will continue to photograph more spots together as we discover them as a team.
Call a friend or family member instead of texting. It’s rare to receive a phone call these days. Take the time to make a call to hear someone’s voice.
You recently spent a week in the Sonoma woods at a camp with your classmates. You slept under the stars, hiked grassy trails, performed in talent shows, and played hide-and-go-seek in the dark with glow sticks. You loved living with very little for a week.
You came home radiant, and described the week as both “magical” and the best week of your life. I asked you if you missed technology while you were away.
“Not at all,” you answered.
One rule I have with myself in raising you is this: every time you walk into a room to see me, if I’m on an electronic device, I make myself look up from it, put it aside, look at you and listen to what you want to tell or ask me. You must do that with me, too.
And, one last thing: put your phone aside several times a day and play with your new puppy. She’s only a puppy once just like you’re only a kid once. Fondle those velvet ears of hers that you love, chase her into doing the butt-dance that makes you laugh, and film her as she learns new tricks. She doesn’t have a phone and she doesn’t understand why you’re obsessed with one. Have you seen how she tries to bite mine? Pay attention to that – she’s doing that to get our attention. Give it to her (the attention, and maybe even the phone).
I still want face time with you. I don’t mean the video-conferencing-program. I mean in-person, eye-to-eye, tête-à-tête conversations when our phones are set aside.
They can recharge while we recharge.
Happy Birthday, sweet Luca. Your personal phone number is now on my speed dial.
And there’s just one more thing: the first person you need to call on your new phone is Me.