Take my Christmas challenge: Put your smartphone away for a day

The night before Thanksgiving, a friend had one final task in preparation for the next day's turkey dinner.

Jodi Stella sat down at her computer and typed up this little poem: "Checking email will have to wait for a bit, come inside, relax, eat and sit ..."

She put the poem and a basket at her front door in Oviedo and asked people to deposit their phones as they arrived.

"It was really cheesy," Stella said.

But it worked.

Friends and family went four or five hours without looking at their phones.

"When people left they said we should do it again on Christmas," Jodi said.

Good idea. Let's all do it. Let's all take a smartphone and tablet time-out on Christmas Day.

This is my Christmas challenge to Sentinel readers: Put down the phone. Talk to your family. Make eye contact. Swap embarrassing stories. Throw the football around. Gather in front of the TV and root against the Miami Heat.

On Thanksgiving Jodi's family played charades and Twister. That may seem a little too Norman Rockwell for your family (or mine). But here's the important part: They noticed a difference in their conversations.

A few weeks earlier, Jodi and some family members were out to dinner and talked about planning a vacation together. One person was so involved in playing backgammon on his phone that he hardly said a word.

The vacation came up again on Thanksgiving and, this time, Mr. Backgammon got in on the conversation.

Imagine how different many of our conversations would be without smartphones.

A few weeks ago, I ate at a Carraba's, and the four people at the table next to me may or may not have known one another. It was hard to tell because they were all staring down, thumbs aflutter, index fingers swiping, while silence hung over the table.

I'm guilty, too.

I'm so addicted to the cellphone that I found myself reflexively responding to an email the other night. At the dinner table. With my family.

"Who are you talking to, Mommy?" asked my 4-year-old.

I sheepishly put the phone down, wondering why it was even there.

This is how we live today. We're tethered to our devices the way my 2-year-old is inseparable from the Buzz Lightyear toy that never leaves his sight, bath time included.

We rationalize our phone attachment by saying we must be available 24-7. But most of the time all we're doing is trolling Facebook or texting friends at the expense of those right in front of our faces — even during Thanksgiving dinner.

CHICAGO

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