August 14, 2013

The Mom without a Cell Phone.

Courtesy of Trista Hendren

Last month I ditched my Smartphone.

Here are some reflections why I prefer my new life; I realize that some of what I say will not remotely reflect popular opinion, so I invite you to consider an Al-Anon phrase that has helped me over the years:

“Take what you like, leave the rest.”

For years, I wanted to get rid of my phone—but I didn’t  think I could.

The number one reason was the safety of my children—or that’s what I told myself. I worried constantly about them, whether they were with me or someone else.

After I got rid of my television, I found myself more settled. Reading Lenore Skenazy’s book, Free Range Kids was a huge eye-opener for me. Skenazy writes, “You don’t remember the times your dad held your handle bars. You remember the day he let go.”

I realized she was right; I had been holding on to my children too tight, always worried that some “weirdo” would take them from me. On some level, I thought my Smartphone would be the one to save us.

When I moved out of the suburbs and into a more urban neighborhood, I worried even less. I got to know my neighbors and I realized I had very little to fear. In the suburbs, our neighbors stayed inside with the doors locked. On our new street, everyone is out and about. We watch out for each other, and for all the kids in the neighborhood.

Since moving, I have taught my children to be street-smart, which has proven to be useful. I have raised them to trust and honor themselves and their intuition, which is something I have only recently begun to do.

They have taught me to slow down, which has been invaluable.

Over the years, I had developed an unhealthy dependence on my phone. I often woke in the night to check messages (it was always on). I looked at it first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

I felt a certain nervousness and neediness around my phone. I felt indebted to it somehow. On one hand, I hated the phone. On the other, I felt it was absolutely necessary. I was certain my friends and family had to be able to reach me at all times. Ironically, when I told my closest friends and family, none of them seemed devastated, or even surprised by my decision.

When I began to learn about the dark side of Smartphones, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with my use of this device. My final decision came after reading Raffi Cavoukian’s latest book, #lightwebdarkweb.

The book takes you through the downfalls of both social media and Smartphones, addressing everything from sustainability to the ill-effects of radiation on children. This got to me:

“Would you want your son or daughter working 12-hour shifts for next to nothing, doing mind-numbing, repetitive tasks for weeks and months on end, and living in cramped, multiple-storey lodgings draped with suicide-prevention netting? If not, ask yourself: How do I feel about my infatuation with the digital devices that come from such hard labour and brutal conditions?”

Last week, an article came out in The Guardian that deeply touched my entire family: “The woman who nearly died making your iPad.” The woman is actually a teenager. Her story is heart-breaking. And it is only one of many.

I have been slowly trying to talk my son out of using his Smartphone, which was a gift from his father. I want the decision to be more his idea than mine. Reading stories such as these may be the remedy to the peer pressure many children feel to have a phone.

The first thing he did (after drying his eyes) was to email the story to his best friend.

While both of them still have their phones today, I know that I could not possibly ask my kids to give up their phones unless I did so first.

Even articles that try to put a positive spin on Smartphones do so with difficulty. Newsweek’s “Why the iPhone may be the greenest technology we’ve ever seen” didn’t seem very positive to me.

“The United States disposes more than 2 million tons of electronics each year, and only a fraction of e-waste ends up in facilities like WeRecycle…Three-quarters of it ends up in landfills, where it leaches toxic chemicals, and much of the remainder is shipped abroad, sometimes illegally, to be dissembled (in the worst case scenario) by a child over an open coal fire. In Guiyu, China, for example—infamous as an e-waste cesspool—88 percent of children to suffer from lead poisoning.”

We can and should certainly call on cell phone companies to use better practices, but we have no assurances that they will. I don’t have high hopes for any major corporations at this point in time.

Recycling phones does very little to help. According to Kiera Butler’s article, “Your Smartphone’s Dirty, Radioactive Secret.”:

“Only 25 percent of electronics of any kind (and 11 percent of phones and other mobile devices) are ever even collected. What programs do exist often amount to shipping old phones and TVs to Chinese villages, where they are broken up and bathed in acid to remove gold and silver—resulting in terrible lead and dioxin pollution.”

After a day of reflection, my son asked, “Mom, why do Smartphones have to be made that way?”

I told them they didn’t. For the most part, it is a cost issue. We want cheap phones. When we demand safe phones, perhaps we will get those. Until then, I plan to do without.

For those who feel they have to have a Smartphone, the FairPhone is worth a look. I learned about it through Raffi’s book, and it sounds intriguing. “FairPhone is the world’s first collective non-profit technology company, developing a phone using minerals mined and sold under equity conditions.”

I don’t believe it addresses the issue with killing bees, however.

There is also growing concern over the risk for brain tumors. While some question the validity of these concerns, an Italian Court ruled last year that mobile phones can cause brain tumors.

Becoming an eco-friendly person has been a gradual process for me.

Last year, I stopped dying my hair because I realized I was poisoning the earth.

I was also poisoning the people who made this toxic product and I was poisoning myself every time I colored my hair.

The crazy thing is that silver hair is actually a sign of wisdom. (Why are so many women so eager to hide a symbol of their intelligence at such a high all-around cost?)

We are so brainwashed to do things a certain way as to be acceptable to others that we don’t think through the consequences. Sometimes, I think people like the idea of environmentalism or women’s rights, but they don’t want to go all the way with either concept.

The way I see it, we are at a tipping point with both; either we make radical changes or we will see even more violence against women and girls.

In fact, a group of scientists have recently concluded that global warming is also related to an increase in violence against women. BBC reported that, “Scientists found that even small changes in temperature or rainfall correlated with a rise in assaults, rapes and murders, as well as group conflicts and war.”

We will see the earth destroyed if we don’t change our course. It may not happen right away, but no one can deny that things are pretty difficult now for billions of people around the world. With environmental destruction, it is often poor women and children of color who pay the highest price.

What are we really hanging on to?

A few years ago, I sold my SUV. I was scared to death of not having a car, even though for years I thought about how great it would be not to have one and all the expenses that went with it.

Every time I drove my Suburban, I felt like a hypocrite. But the thought of not having a car was more embarrassing to me than my own sense of worth. Guess how many times I have missed having a car?

Not one.

I felt that same way about my Smartphone. There has not been even a moment when I have missed my phone. The same phone—or string of phones—that was nearly glued to my hand for 20 years.

My point is that we are brainwashed into having possessions that don’t serve us well. Many of these items come at a very high cost to others who don’t have the luxury of shipping their toxic waste off somewhere else. My hope is people will begin to challenge what items are deemed “necessary.”

The added benefit

I did not realize how fragmenting it is to be looking at your cell phone all day. I knew on some level that my days were being chopped up, but I did not fully comprehend just how distracting a phone is until I got rid of mine. Calls, texts, emails….the constant need to check all three—and Facebook and Twitter.

The Smartphone interrupts your ability to think. All. Day. Long.

I am at least three times as productive since I got rid of my phone. I am actually able to write a complete article, instead of starting articles that get pushed to the side indefinitely.

I finished my book. And most importantly, when I am with my children, I am completely in the moment.

I remember so many times when my son was young and I was looking at my phone when I should have been with him. He called me on it, and his little voice still echoes in my heart.

I can never get those years back, and I mourn them. Ironically, I now have time to mourn them. But better now, while my children are young than to look back at the end of my life, my children fully grown, knowing that there is no way I can ever make those moments up to them.

We now have more time for painting, reading, yoga and playing card games; my attention is never diverted by an email that could wait.

My children are also slowly discovering the freedom to wander the neighborhood as I did in the 80’s. They are growing into incredible, brave, caring and courageous human beings. I think a large part of that has resulted in my ability to let them have their own adventures. As the Chinese Proverb goes, “Children need two things: roots and wings.”

We can’t give our children either at the expense of others.

My definition of being a “good” mom has changed a lot since I became a mother 10 years ago.

It is fuller and more inclusive of the earth and all her children. If I can’t do something without hurting someone else—whether they be here or abroad—I don’t want to do it.

I am no longer buying into the fear that something that will happen to my children if I don’t play by all the unspoken rules.

Statistically speaking, the chances of that are slim to none. And yet I now know that there are things that I was doing as a Western mother that were directly causing harm to children abroad—I am no longer willing to live like that anymore.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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ddthrasher Mar 21, 2014 8:37pm

Thank you, for writing this Trista. I came across your work today, which led me to this article. A few weeks ago, my mother called to ask me, if I would "message my sister, and have her call?" Impatiently, my inner angry girl yelled back in silence, "Really? Are you fricking serious?" Being tethered to my phone, and eventually talked into a smartphone has created a sense of urgency in a world that seems to be spinning out of control. For me, it seems that the more connected I am, the more disconnected I've become, especially from myself. Over the past year or so I've been wondering, if I were to ditch my phone, how much does it cost to use a pay phone, and do pay phones even exist anymore? I don't like being "on" twenty-four seven. I need time to decompress. I just need to "be."

I'm finding it more and more offensive, that friends and family are slighted, and seem to go into a hyperventilating panic if I don't answer or return a call straight away. Especially, since attempting to return to school, and realizing how much of my time, was being eaten up by "conversations" with relentless messaging. The most irritating messages: from a sister who wants to converse via text about long harbored resentments, instead of having an adult face to face conversation. I've started the practice of putting my phone on silent in another room. Expressions, of "hurt feelings" and, or "concern" are attempts to draw me into a frantic fury, I thought I had rid myself of. Whether I like it or not, I could be a poster-child for Al-Anon. I struggle when people suffer and, unfortunately, the lines about what I'm responsible for and not so much, have become very, very blurry. Boundaries, that I worked hard to define, need to be redefined. More layers of the proverbial onion for me to peel. I'm frustrated with myself for giving into the perceived urgency of other people's lives, unnecessary emergencies, or lack of planning whatever the case may be.

My father passed away two years ago, and I was straightway drawn into my first family dynamics. I've come to realize how quickly I digressed into patterns that aren’t helpful to anyone, let alone me. I find myself at the edge of panic attacks all too frequently. I've become uncomfortable in my own skin. Prior to my dad’s death, I always used public transportation. At times, the bus and train would be frustrating, but it required of me time to be out and about- walking, walking, and walking. It gave me space to be grateful for good sturdy legs, and to feel my feet firmly on the ground. It gave me time to converse with my Maker, or to have a chat with a stranger. It allowed time for others to do for themselves, instead of me being instantaneously available. Purchasing a car became a necessity because my mother lives 50 miles away, and she wasn't doing well after losing her life partner of 52 years. The frequent hauling of my books and overnight bag was becoming a burden. I'm often asked if, "I'm glad to have more time, than I did before being a car owner?" Time for what? I'm afraid I'm running out of time with the added stress of traffic, and a swirling sea of human-doings instead of human beings causing accidents. This article inspired me to park my car, unless it's a necessity to drive.

Thank you also, for being a considerate and caring mother, who looks at and listens deeply to her children, and for being open to not giving convenient, pat answers to serious questions asked by them. Thank you for teaching your children to consider the world beyond, and to look deeper at the consumerism of our times. Thank you for teaching them it's good to ask questions and for letting them make decisions as independent thinkers, moved by a bigger picture.

I'm going to make time to look at the FairPhone link in your article. All this doing, and doing seems to rob us of precious moments in which we consider lives beyond our own, and for me; that's not the person I am inside, nor the legacy I care to leave. As a mother of a young adult daughter, I'm looking forward to reading your book, ‘The Girl God' and purchasing an extra copy for her.

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Trista Hendren

Trista Hendren is the author of The Girl God. The second book in this series, Mother Earth, will be published in December. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at www.thegirlgod.com.