by Mary Helen Darah
PUBLICATION DATE: July 31, 2018

mh-sunnyside
L-R: Maria, Lauren, Helena and Mary Helen Darah cherish a rare moment of being ‘unplugged’ from the outside world while at their home in Canada.

It can be a challenge keeping my family “high touch” in our high tech world. Back in the day, (I’m officially middle-aged starting a sentence with those three words) our access to technology was highly limited. We did not have cell phones, texting, iPods, or Alexa. In fact, living large for us was finally getting a longer phone cord so we could have enough line to take the phone out of the kitchen and into the utility closet to get a little privacy. Advances such as call waiting and caller ID were unheard of. When I dove for the phone, I never knew if it was going to be the captain of the basketball team or the weird guy from church that my mother adored, who had an endless supply of knock-knock jokes and a tendency to overuse hair products. We had to deal with taking turns to talk on the phone. Looking back, I am embarrassed to recall that, as an American teen, I was miffed about waiting in line to talk to my best friend Kari about important things, such as whether she was going to wear her hair down or in a French braid, while across the world kids my age were waiting in line for things like food.

The good, the bad and the unfortunate
Although technology has made it possible to keep in touch with the people I love living miles away, sometimes it distances me from the people close by. Often, I find myself sending off a quick text instead of reaching out with a personal phone call or visit. I ask my Home Google for advice more frequently than I ask family or friends. OK, mind you, the people in my life cannot give me the extended weather forecast in Massey, Ontario, check the stock market, call to order take-out, make the sound of a loon, or play the Eagles Greatest Hits in mere moments, but at times I worry that my high tech world is squeezing out my human connections.

Here are a few helpful suggestions from a woman who has lived long enough to say “Back in the Day.”

No cell phones during dinner
Perhaps I should preface that suggestion with “have family dinners.” Study after study confirms that if you want your kids to have a better chance of coping in this high octane world of ours, simply sharing a meal will work wonders. Dining is a sacred cell-free experience where ideas, catching up, concerns, and eye contact can and will take place.

Privacy is a privilege
It’s tough for parents to keep up with the multitude of planning and, at times, plotting that occurs in the texting world. When I was a teen it felt as if the entire world knew my social life. Let me tell you, it would take a great deal of effort to plot a covert outing on a stationary rotary phone-even if the cord reached into the closet. Ask questions and when in doubt rely on this tidbit of knowledge; If your kid’s hair is straightened, makeup is applied and you get a whiff of the latest Victoria Secret scent as your teen walks out the door, chances are they are not going to a friend’s house to hang out.

Treat people the same if not better than your devices
I have witnessed, and am guilty of as well, being more concerned about the status and location of my phone and continually missing charger, than the humans in my life. Yes, it feels as if my entire life is contained in my phone, but should it be? I believe it would be a much kinder, more connected world if we checked on our loved ones with the same frequency as our Facebook pages. Also, it’s important to remember that, yes, Google Maps can tell you where to go and recalculate if you get off course, but you will miss the eye rolling and other assorted nonverbal gestures that come from receiving/giving directions from a human. It’s difficult to believe, but I actually miss listening to the Darah men, upon arriving at their destination, strenuously discussing the way they SHOULD have gotten there.

Unplug
I know this is nearly impossible, but I highly recommend unplugging from technology once in a while. I am blessed to have a forced time of being without cell coverage and WiFi. I just returned from taking my daughters and their friends up north. Some of the kids we have taken over the years, go through “tech withdrawal” but then something magical happens. Games are played, conversations are held, arts and crafts are created, and scavenger hunts are still a thing, even though my kids are in their twenties. Mind you, the hunt has been modified to a search for fun “wear it or drink it” items, but still…

It’s during these precious moments that I am grateful that we can, even for a brief time, chuck the high tech and cherish the high touch.