We met these new friends at the Sherborne playground, and that’s no small feat when you’re trying to teach your two-year-old that a T-rex growl is not the first mode of introduction you wanna select when meeting new toddler buds on the swingy bridge.

There’ve been a few jungle gym moms sporting athleisure and sibilant [s]s who’ve been lessss than underssstanding about our journey in training a two-year-old to manage testosterone, nascent impulse control, and knowledge of The Hulk’s existence in the Marvel Universe.

So, when our new friend (let’s call her Pepper Potts) and her kewpie doll of a daughter were unfazed by our younger son’s presentational rites, we knew we were simpatico.

Making new friends is tough — you ever seen this meme?



Making new friends when you’re parenting two small children through a pandemic and you’re new to New England — this wave-at-strangers North Carolinian wasn’t ready.

Back when I was dreaming about what it’d be like to live in Denmark, I read in all those moving-to-Scandinavia books about how hard it was to crack the ossified social groupings that formed when everyone was in tax-funded preschool.

This felt similar. Only, you couldn’t see the bottom halves of people’s faces indoors to know if there was a you-can-talk-to-me grin underneath there.

There’s a reason the great primal parent scream circle happened in Boston.

But back to Pepper Potts and her understanding one-year-old.

We were coordinating a dinner get-together, and Melissa hadn’t heard back from Pepps for a couple days. When she finally got back to Melissa, she said, “Sorry, we were having a phones-down day.”

A phones-down day.

That sounds nice.

Maybe?

I mean, I don’t know what I would do with the existential void I’d experience in the bathroom, but I can see its appeal.

Then, during one of our get-takeout-after-the-boys-are-asleep dates, we said, “Maybe we should have a phones-down day, too.”

“Yeah, maybe we should.”

“What day?”

“Um, Sunday?”

“Okay. Okay.”

The Sunday came.

I came downstairs, extracted our phones from the charger in the living room, made sure Broadway hadn’t called, and I popped our lil rectangles in the kitchen desk drawer.

I didn’t want to. I wanted to see what the algorithm had prepared to accompany my coffee preparation.

But in the drawer they went.

We checked in on messages at lunch and dinner time, but other than that, our lil slump-n-stare portals stayed cozy in the kitchen.

The day was significantly different.

To start, the boys only lost their minds two-thirds of one time regarding Paw Patroller possession before 8am, and I sat in quiet astonishment reading Atlas of the Heart while each of them played in separate yet connected zones in the living room.

I made pancakes.

I cleared the dollar store goggles, Wendy’s kid’s meal puzzles, and micro fire station toys from the kitchen counters. I even scrubbed down the sink.

Still quiet.

I heard birds sing.

I got ideas.

I heard myself.

It was nuts.

Throughout the day I felt something in my tummy that felt like a nice lemon seltzer. It was cool, it was fresh, just the right amount of zing.

Melissa reported that she felt liberated and freer. Less distracted and able to focus on the thing in front of her.

What was up?

Throughout the week I took to parking my phone in the drawer, and I experienced similar effects. I also tracked my irritation levels on the days I was more phone-involved (they were higher.)

This morning on our second official phones-down day, I pondered the findings from Melissa’s and my two-strong experiment group.

This is what I saw.

You know that His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman? It was a movie (The Golden Compass), and now it’s a series on HBO.

In Pullman’s alternate universe, folks’ souls express themselves outside their bodies in the form of an animal called a daemon.

Here’s the crazily good Ruth Wilson playing Mrs Coulter with her golden monkey.



🐒 That’s what our phones have become.

They’re these identity extension portals that slurp us into unfettered googling, social-ing, weather checking, picture taking, texting, video capturing, darwinian date selection, and in case of the most dire emergencies, phone calls.

Next time you’re on public transit or in a room where more than four humans have to wait, look up from your own screen, and see if I’m not right.

We’re all hunching in on ourselves getting hits of digital cotton candy. I mean, candy floss is delicious, but eat it all day, and you’ve got a sugar exhaustion headache and an unnaturally pink tongue.

So, what if you gave this brief experiment a whirl?

If not a phones-down day, a half day?

I’d love to know if you experience salubrious effects like I did.

Even if you don’t go on a phone phast, having a phone drawer is a big deal.

What if you made your phone a cozy bed in your house and decided on some times when you’ll check in on your extensive correspondence demands?

You’re prolly not gonna wanna do it. I didn’t.

But, if it can alleviate irritation, zero in your scatter-noggin, and keep info pile-up from clogging your pipes like it did for me, I’d say it’s worth a try.

Maybe you can sing a song instead. 

Cause ‘member— there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps truth in advertising — the terrific effects of my phone-phree days were sometimes offset by my mind’s need to fill the distracto-void with all the creative projects I should have completed in 2020. That and end-of-semester moodiness. Sorry, family. I’m still working on it.

For horses-outa-the-barn brain stampedes, I recommend you keep a piece of paper handy and jot down all prancing ponies and set a near-future date when you’ll revisit them.

pps I’ve been rereading parts of this wonderful book An Everlasting Meal. I love Tamar Adler‘s philosophy on food and her ideas on cooking. Something to do while your phone’s in bed. 

ppps The first paragraph from this story in The Atlantic will tell you what that Boston primal scream circle was all about. 

pppps Georgetown Computer Science Professor Cal Newport recently blogged about a new study that showed “Taking a Break from Social Media Makes You Happier and Less Anxious.” I mean, duh, we all know, but very interesting way they set this up. 

ppppps If it’s a hot day, and you need something to do besides doom scroll, get a few friends together and spray a garden hose.