NOTE: Please don’t forget to tell me your favorite Dating Dad columns from the last 10 years! I might just take you to dinner!
It was one of those evenings in Denver when a late afternoon thunderstorm had pummeled the hot asphalt just before sunset, clearing out in time for a particularly starry sky. I was walking through the park that leads to my neighborhood after a night of knocking back negronis (my summer go-to) with my drinking buddy, and I still had a hint of the cocktail’s floral-bitter-raisin taste in my mouth. The night was soft like a summer-weight blanket, the air in the park lush and fragrant from all of the rain we’ve been getting, trees overgrown and the grass all green and shaggy. About the closest thing to a humid night we get in Denver.
I’d posted an Instagram photo from earlier in the evening, and as I ambled home, notifications of people liking and commenting started buzzing my Pebble watch. My phone was in my pocket, and my first impulse was to grab it out and see what people were saying. But I held off, allowing myself to breathe in the night and appreciate my walk across the bridge, with the Platte still turbulent, overflowing its banks, kicking up flashes of white light reflected from the buildings above.
My watch vibrated on my arm again. I succumbed to the call of the social as I continued my way home.
I bought my Pebble awhile back, because I thought it would help me feel less tethered to the magical screen of distraction that is my iPhone. I figured, if I could get notifications on my wrist, allowing me to leave my phone in my pocket, maybe I’d miss less stuff going around me, and break the habit of reaching for it at any quiet (or not-so-quiet) moment.
I still think about the day, a few years ago, when I brought my phone into the Apple store so they could fix a problem. As I waited while the dudes worked on it, in front of me, I actually put my hand into my pocket to reach for it and skim Facebook. While the phone was already on the counter in front of me! That was a big wakeup call about the nature of my addiction.
I hoped the smartwatch would help me stay more present. But, of course, it didn’t.
I remember my very first lunch meeting with the watch on. I was stoked to not be one of those people who keeps his phone on the table during a meal (I’m against that, in general, anyway). But it was a weekday, and my notifications were coming in like crazy, so every time my watch buzzed, I’d take a glance at my wrist.
Finally, one of my lunch companions said, “Do you have someplace to be? You keep looking at your watch.”
The thing is, it’s more rude to look at your watch than it is to pull out your phone and check it. Because looking at your watch still connotes that you’re concerned about the time and aren’t committed to being where you are.
That’s a problem with the Apple Watch that no one seems to talk about. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’m reluctant to buy one. I guarantee that your friends will be just as annoyed with you for fiddling around on your watch as they are now when you take out your phone. Having a smartwatch doesn’t mean you’re less checked out from what’s going on around you; it’s just another distraction. Wired Magazine definitely got it wrong in their recent paean to Apple’s latest game-changer. Now we don’t even have to take out our phones to pay attention to everything except what’s right there in front of us!
I know I have a problem, though I’ve been much more conscious of it in the last couple of years, and have become better at putting my phone aside for longer periods of time. I also don’t wear my Pebble on most dates, because I want to be present and not distracted.
Walk down the street, or sit in a restaurant, and most, if not all, of the people around you will be looking at their phones. It’s a sickness, and I’m embarrassed that I’m part of the plague.
And, of course, Simone’s own need to constantly have a screen to her face kills me. Now that she’s been dating someone for five months, it’s even harder to keep her off her phone. I know I’ve been a bad example, and I’m struggling to find a way for us both to go on the occasional internet hiatus. I don’t have an answer, but I’m looking for one.
But, all of that said, I love the opportunities and interactions that being active in social media has opened up for me. Though I’ve scaled back in my need to constantly update social channels with my life events, I’m still more active than most people I know.
I recently read a fun and hilarious collection of short stories by actor/author BJ Novak called “One More Thing.” You should read it right away. One of the stories, “The Man Who Posted Pictures of Everything He Ate,” was literally less than two pages, and broke my heart. It hit way too close to home. But I’m lucky enough to be occasionally in contact with BJ (which is so damn cool), and he let me know he meant the story to be a happy one. I went back and read it again in that light, and I think I understand what he meant.
See, a lot of people see others’ compulsive sharing of images and status updates as a sad attempt to combat loneliness — as a way to elicit support and interactions because they’re not happening in the offline world. And, sure, I’ll admit that when I’m lonely or blue, I get some consolation when my online friends interact with me there. Who doesn’t?
But I don’t post those delicious oysters on Instagram because I’m lonely. I don’t tweet about a stellar cocktail because I don’t have anyone to sit with me at the bar. And though I am guilty of the occasional humblebrag, I’m not actively posting about my adventures to show off or prove anything. The real reason I share so much is that I’m happy and grateful and astounded at how magical my life has become, and popping a picture on Instagram is a meaningful way to share that gratitude and appreciation while including my friends in the joy of the moment.
It’s a way to say, “Look how awesome this is…I wish you were here to enjoy it with me in person, but at least we can share it like this.” And, just like the character in BJ’s story, when I get teased about my sharing, it makes me laugh. Because that’s part of the sharing experience, too.
And if I can give props to a favorite bartender or restaurant, even better.
A few weeks ago, Simone and I were at a fundraising breakfast. I love taking her to experiences like that, because she learns so much about civic responsibility while honing her schmoozing skills (which she manages pretty well, considering she’s 15 and not so interested in talking to strangers). But the theme of that event, for her, was people meeting her and saying, “I feel like I know you, because your dad says so many wonderful things about you on Facebook!”
She would smile graciously, then give me a pained look when the person walked away.
To Simone, I’m a social media celebrity, and it makes her reluctant to get too invested in online platforms. She has no interest in Facebook, and only uses Twitter to tweet puns and follow information about her favorite animes. Her many Instagram accounts are anonymous, and her favorite app is Vent, where most of her connections have no idea who she is.
I’m mindful of what I share about Simone on social platforms. I keep photos of her on Facebook locked down to “friends, not acquaintances.” And the only pix you’ll ever see of her on Twitter or Instagram don’t show her face. I’m sure it would just take a bit of digging to find photos of my daughter online, but I still feel a responsibility to protect her as much as I can. When I see single moms posting photos of their kids on Tinder, it breaks my heart. Why would you share something like that with total strangers looking for a hookup? Sometimes, I’m tempted to swipe right just for the sake of providing feedback.
I have an uneasy relationship with my online behavior. I don’t want it to get in the way of being present and intentional in the midst of magical moments, but sharing those experiences can be fulfilling as well. My job requires me to be knowledgable about what’s happening in social media, but I know that having an active public online persona has been a turnoff for some potential love interests. I’ve paid that price, and I don’t want to go through something like that ever again.
Like I said a couple months ago my online persona is truly me, but it’s not all of me. It’s real, but it’s incomplete. It is an important part of my daily experience and my personality. And the online world, with its relationships and interactions and joys and heartbreaks, is every bit as real as the offline world.
The balancing act of living in both while honoring what’s vital and important and happening RIGHT NOW IN FRONT OF YOU is going to be a fundamental challenge for the next generation or two.
I don’t believe a smartwatch is going to be the answer.