In every moment of the day, there is someone who is not there with us, but
who speaks with us and solicits us constantly. It appears without warning,
interrupts whoever is talking, and constantly changes the conversation. It
is the intruder, the one who has made it practically impossible to
finish a job, watch a film, or chat at the table without any distractions.
Let’s say things as they are. The smartphone “has turned behaviors, which a
few years ago would have been considered as incredibly impolite, into
acceptable ones”. These are not my words but those of Ariela Mortara,
Professor of Consumer Trends and Society at the International University of
Languages and Media (IULM), based in Milan, Italy. She continues, “The
possibility of sharing experiences with virtual friends, more than with
those right there with you” has made us incapable of getting through an
entire meal without WhatsApp, selfies, or email.
Whether it is important, urgent, necessary or for fun, there is always a
notification that takes away our focus. It’s a constant interference in our
personal and professional life, and a one-way ticket to what has been
defined as the era of distraction.
We parents lament about how children today excessively use technology, and
we worry about the consequences that this will bear in their lives. But
have we looked in the mirror? Have we asked ourselves if we have the same
The truth is that digital dependence is definitely the most transversal
addiction. We always have our phones on us, we wait for the stop light to
respond to our messages, and even worse, we don’t even look into the eyes
of the person with whom we are speaking. Not even our children.
We down talk digital natives, but we are the first who need a technological
detox. If it’s true that children don’t learn from what we say, but what we
do, the solution is around the corner.
Our world overwhelms us with data and stimuli that is difficult to manage
in order to leave the proper space for productivity and creativity. In his
book, Focus, Daniel Goleman speaks about the vital role that our
attention plays in the way in which we confront life. This subtle, elusive,
and invisible mental resource connects us with the world, shaping and
defining our experiences.
The ability to do multiple things simultaneously is certainly a resource
and a competency, but the exasperation of this “skill” has made us
incapable of focusing on one thing at a time. The era of distraction is
actually nothing other than the negative evolution of the revered concept
About 47% of professionals identify cell phones as the primary cause of
never-ending work meetings and their continually distracted participants.
But the most alarming data is that 62% of children feel like they don’t
have the complete attention of their own parents when they speak to them.
Guess why? Because they are looking at their cell phones!
As usual, the Americans were the first to get the challenge and confront it
with a business idea.
They invented Pause, a chicly designed
box that blocks wi-fi signals, messages, and incoming calls. Just place
your cell phones inside to create distraction-free moments at home, in the
office, or at school. It’s an invitation to connect only with the people
who are right in front of you, eliminating every virtual activity or
In the promotional video, people
have a cell phone stuck to their faces as they eat, work, and even sleep.
“I miss joking around for more than five minutes before we all zone out and
check what interesting things other people have said,” says the little boy
in the video. He continues, “I’m afraid of the future. If this is us now,
when smartphones have only been around for 10 years, what will become of us
in another 10 years? 20?”
This simple yet effective idea has an alter ego now in Italy. At Turin’s Eataly, restaurant guests have to drop their phones in a Black
Phone Box. Whoever makes it through their entire meal without their cell
phone gets dessert for free!
Now let’s try to be objective. Do we really need a $40 sleek box or a group
of unknown waiters at a restaurant to remind us that we are there to eat
and speak with those in front of us?
If our family time is sacred, if it is important to be productive at work,
what is stopping us from leaving our phones in our bags for a half hour?
Where is our willpower?
Why do we not choose to have control over the means and tools we use? Isn’t
this what we ask our children? Fine then. Let’s be the first to show them
that we are capable of using them purposefully and moderately.
If our motivation is weakened to the point of being unable to leave our
phone in our coat pocket for an hour, then we should carve out time to be
together without screens or Wi-Fi. Let’s take a nice shoebox, decorate it
as we wish, and put the intruder on hold.
It’s not simply irony. The time we spend as a family, especially at the
table, has an inestimable value for creating family ties. The emotional
connection is the greatest protection we can offer our children because it
is the means for helping them construct their own identities. This is the
type of education that will protect them in life from harmful use of modern
technologies and from themselves.
Forming good “digital habits” has the same importance as forming good
nutritional, hygienic, or study habits. Nobody wants to demonize
technology. I don’t even remember how someone would find an address before
Google Maps, but I believe, as my grandmother would say, every excess is
Let us teach our children the value of time and the possibility to
consciously make choices; let us help them develop a critical sense. Let us
do it with our example, in the time that we spend with them, being there
for them 100%. What is shared as a family, at the table, goes a lot further
than the food on it. So, let’s put the external distractions on pause and
reevaluate that which brings us together, be it warm, constructive or
meaningful; that which keeps our emotional bonds steady and draws family
members closer together. That which, in few words, makes a family a family!