This winter we took our kids skiing for the first time. We claimed the excursion was a birthday gift for my younger son, who just turned 8. But we also wanted to take advantage of the SkiPA Snowpass, a program that offers discounted lessons and lift tickets for 4th and 5th graders and their parents. Great deal! We went to Liberty Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania, about an hour’s drive from Baltimore and D.C.
I kept my expectations low. Honestly, it could have gone either way: the kids might hate it intensely, the way my younger son hated sledding the first time he tried it. Or, they could love it. Luckily for all of us, they loved it. Aside from some initial frustration about not being Lindsey Vonn the first time they strapped on skis, they warmed up to it surprisingly quickly.
After a 90-minute intro lesson and a couple trial runs with the amazingly patient instructors, they were hurtling down the bunny slope solo at top speed. In case you haven’t been skiing in a decade or two, like me, they don’t give little kids poles anymore and making a wide V with your skis to stop is now called “pizza” instead of “snowplow,” FYI. It’s like the sitting “Indian style”/pretzel thing all over again.
As for me, I was pleased to discover that I still had some ski skills, rusty as they were. (My skills, not the skis, which have gotten much lighter, sleeker, and curvier since those long, skinny yardsticks I last skied on.) I was actually pretty darn decent!
But there was another unexpected bonus I hadn’t even considered: for most of the day, the entire family was completely unplugged from technology. With the exception of taking a few photos and videos of the kids in action, no one touched their phones all day.
With gloved hands clutching ski poles and chairlift rails, neither my husband nor I was trying to text, check email, or make calls, and our kids weren’t trying to snatch our phones out of our hands to “look something up real quick,” make something in Minecraft, or take selfies with the newest Snapchat filters. It was GLORIOUS.
We all know our society is going to hell in a handbasket because of technology. ADMIT IT. I love my smartphone as much as the next person, and I rely on it for my livelihood. But there are limits. Being constantly connected to our devices has taken a toll on our manners, our attention spans, and our health. The irony of being a journalist who covers health and technology is that I know of dozens of scientific studies that prove this.
Studies have shown that children’s ability to read facial expressions and develop empathy is suffering as social interactions become increasingly screen-centric. But guess what? Kids aren’t the only ones with a problem. Adults are WORSE.
I haven’t been to a yoga class in months that hasn’t been interrupted by a pinging cell phone someone forgot to turn off. One time the instructor actually stopped the class to ask a woman to step outside who had TAKEN A CALL ON HER MAT. How does that even happen?! “Hello? No, it’s fine. I’m just doing savasana in a silent room filled with other people. What’s up?” WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!
I haven’t been out for drinks, dinner, lunch, or coffee with friends or colleagues without a phone on the table or in someone’s hand. Now, to be fair, it’s usually not that people are rudely texting during our meal. That happens, but more often than not they are responding to a boss, husband, or babysitter with an “urgent” question. Does that make it better…?
No, it’s usually that someone will be talking about something – a book, a recipe – and will feel compelled to look it up right that second. What did we ever do back in the olden days when we couldn’t ask Siri or Alexa for the immediate answer to our most pressing questions, like who wrote that book that became that movie with Reese Witherspoon or when registration closes for Lego camp?!
I’m not totally innocent. I spend a fair amount of my life attached to my phone. I can say it’s for work, and that it gives me flexibility, and that’s partly true. And you can say that we have no choice, and that’s just how it is now, and people expect it.
That’s certainly the message I got when the school nurse called me 3 times in 10 minutes on my cell phone and then moved on to our emergency contact when I didn’t respond instantly – BECAUSE I WAS ON A WORK CALL.
The most annoying part is that it wasn’t even an emergency. My kid had a random rash that wasn’t even contagious. It would not have killed him or the nurse to sit there until I finished my conference call. But the expectation now is that everything must be dealt with immediately and with a sense of urgency and that we all must be reachable at all times no matter where we are or what we’re doing. You know you answer texts on the toilet. ADMIT IT.
That’s what was so great about being on the ski slopes. We could just BE there. We didn’t have to do anything except ski. Cell service was bad so nobody could reach us. The only thing we had to accomplish was to get down the mountain in one piece without losing any skis or teeth.
The thing that’s so tricky about this technology that permeates our lives now is that we often don’t even realize it’s causing us stress until it’s not there.
The sense of relief I felt – I believe we all felt – being disconnected and out in nature for an extended period of time was overwhelming. I believe our addiction to technology is hurting us and our families, whether we want to admit it or not.
You can tell yourself that having dinner while the kids watch a movie on the iPad and you and your spouse have your phones face up on the table is still a family dinner and that’s better than nothing.
You can tell yourself that running on the treadmill while you catch up on “Scandal” is exercise the same way that swishing down a ski slope with the sun and wind in your face is.
But it’s not. And deep down, we all know it. We can’t all take a day off and go skiing. (Damn, the sport’s expensive!!) But we can wake up. We can step away from the devices. We can unplug. If only for a little while… at least a yoga class.