Distracted living: Be smarter than your smart phone

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Erik Caswell is the General Manager of A1 Driving School in Sacramento. He observes that distracted living is epidemic with his students who are obsessed with interacting with their mobile phones. (Photo: courtesy)

CyberParenting Topics on TheFish103.9FM Tuesdays.

There is no greater metaphor for the chaotic, cyber-powered lifestyles we lead today than distracted driving.  The advent of the mobile phone has put into hyper drive the temptation to be led by external forces in “the social network”, rather than being mindful about a task at hand or a conversation with a loved one.

Eric Caswell of A1 Driving School in Sacramento observes the problem of distracted living in the students he trains. “In the classroom it is so obvious the addiction to the phone,” Caswell said. “The students are constantly checking their phones, and you can see that there is great satisfaction in the text exchange.”

In the automobile, Caswell notices that the students fight the urge to pick up the phone. “As they hear the phone vibrate in the cup holder, you can see they are distracted and fighting the urge to pick it up and respond.”

Caswell also observes that this impulse to immediately respond to incoming texts, is also cultivating a lack of patience complicated by the hectic pace of life. “The technology is taking over our lives by setting a pace that does not allow us to focus,” Caswell said, “And we are angry in responding to situations that require patience.”

We can easily find ourselves being led by the device into states of anxiety, and depression.


Being tethered to technology does not promote a healthy state of mind. So the big question I ask when addressing adolescent students is:  “Who is in charge? You or the phone?”

We all feel the pressure to multi-task. The smart phone is an integral component of daily life, and we are tethered to networks 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  As we are packing more activities and performance expectations into our lives, the primary relationships are the things in life that suffer the most. And in this “always in the network” environment, there is not a sense of peace and security. Being in a state of “always on” is not a recipe for a healthy mental outlook and happy heart. There is very little down time. Worse yet, there is very little room to simply focus on what matters.

Problems of being distracted about what really matters

Multitasking has become almost second nature. And so if our activities are cluttered with thoughts about being somewhere else or doing something different than the task at hand, we cannot be living an abundant life, which requires a peaceful heart. Quite simply, we are bonding with the wrong things.  Texts and posts that are trivial or not edifying, headlines, jokes and on-line games, gossip, things to purchase next, etc.  There is a networked consumer culture beckoning us into a complete embrace. (See interesting stats about how mobile marketers are preparing to capitalize on the texting networks)

Top cyber safety concerns

  • General disconnect between children, parents and families
  • Over-dependence upon friends and friend communities as a point of reference for life
  • Pedophiles access to children
  • Easy access to drugs and alcohol
  • Degrading values, norms and beliefs of popular culture reinforced as truth
  • Anxiety, depression, unrest

Children know when they are getting full attention and appreciate it.

When I stopped working full time outside the home and started Banana Moments, my youngest son was entering the eighth grade. We were having lunch one day with a colleague and friend, and she was interrupted a few times by her mobile phone (in her ear). He leaned over and whispered in my ear, “That used to be  you.”  His observation made me acutely aware of how important it is to be in the present moment with our children, when they are with us…for all things.

When your child asks a question, or expresses a concern or complains about something, it is an opportunity to learn more about your child, compare notes about experiences, and express wisdom. Too often, and I have been guilty of this, there is an emphasis on process, not experience. Just getting to the next event, assignment, or task that will allow us to complete our check list for the day. Children know that they are not giving and receiving proper attention because they are also giving divided attention to others.

To that end, being distracted breeds a type of anxiety and unrest demonstrated in the classroom and society at large as witnessed by the classroom conduct issues making medication for behavior commonplace, more children experiencing anxiety and depression at earlier ages, a bully culture that convinces us it is not safe to stand up for targets, and school shooting rampages – the ultimate expression of love loss.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

Nevertheless, digital natives seek authenticity from adults, and the kids know when we are faking it.

Photo: Stick M’s photostream (Flickr)
“end of tunnel”

Where ever you are, be there

In prehistoric cyber times, when BASIC and mainframe computing was state of the art technology, I had an information technology professor who once offered some great advice to a classroom full of young adults who were not paying attention.

“Listen up,” he said, “I have something very, very, important to tell you. It is going to serve you the rest of your life.”

The class settled down, as he stood quietly at the head of the classroom wearing a wide smile, ear to ear.

“Where ever you are,” he said, emphasizing are…as in, “you are in a classroom”…a few seconds of silence lingered as the students anticipated the rest of the sentence.

“Be there,” he affirmed.

He stood quietly and the room fell silent.  And then he resumed instruction.

I don’t know how many of my fellow classmates took this to heart, but it sure has served me over the years. There is a profound wisdom in that statement, affirmed by my faith in Jesus, whose ministry is all about living in the moment and focusing on what matters: your relationship with God and then with one another.

Now this advice does not mean that we are to ignore planning for the future or learning from past experience. Rather, it reminds me that the only power I truly have is to be fully present in the moment because I can do nothing about the past or the future.

Except perhaps worry.


And this is the problem for children who are not living in the moment; who are conditioned to be thinking about the next event, what someone else thinks, what is being posted or texted 24 hours a day, rather than experiencing life as an empowered individual forming a healthy perspective about self and others.

Let’s be clear. The social network is not your friend. It represents “the crowd”, and while we may find friends in the crowd, the friend is a qualitative experience that involves trust and personal experience. And so when we are leading distracted lives, we are processing relationships and there is not an opportunity to really care.

Text life management: The Otter App

Erik Wood, inventor of Otter, with his daughter Eve. Otter text application helps you to take charge of your texting life.

Taking charge of text life management is an important way to manage family cyber life as a discipline that makes the smart phone serve the individual, not the other way around.

My friend Erik Wood, in Seattle, Washington, developed an application called, Otter App, that enables parents and kids to manage the flow of text communications around important daily activities including sleep time, homework, classroom time, driving, dinner hour, and family events.

The idea is to set up a schedule that automatically organizes and replies to incoming texts while you are paying attention to other important things.

Learn more about Otter App.

Learn more about age-appropriate use of wireless devices




Joanna Jullien
“‘Banana Moments’ is the term I use to describe all the curve balls and surprises of parenting in the network. Some are humorous and light hearted others are gut wrenching. There has never been a more rewarding time to be a parent. Photo: Christi Benz


Joanna Jullien is an author and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.

CyberParenting Topics on The Fish 103.9FM Tuesdays

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Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner


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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.