Five Tricks to Tame Technology

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

People who love balance love to hate the insidious way that wireless devices have proliferated, and there has been much hue and cry over "Crackberries" and electronic leashes and the way wireless devices have turned the home into a branch of the office.

I don't buy it. The technology isn't intrinsically evil or flawed or dangerous. Instead, it seems pretty clear that our behavior hasn't kept up with the wireless gizmo revolution. Don't like your Treo buzzing at dinner? The solution is pretty simple. Shut it off. Or throw it into the Potomac. You own the device, not the other way around.

I've been developing some rules for myself to develop the discipline needed to keep my various beeping and vibrating and chirping devices at bay when it comes to family time, and I'd love to hear yours:

1. Remember Why You Went Wireless: There are some places that mobile devices are heaven-sent and allow us to work during times that would otherwise be wasted. The airport. Taxis. The DMV. The Metro. Not home. No one gets a Blackberry so they can read e-mail while brushing their teeth. Please keep this in mind.

2. Shut 'Em Off: Unless you are a doctor, a system administrator or Karl Rove, you do not need to respond to phone calls or e-mails at all hours, and certainly not when you're with your kids. The best way to remove temptation is the off button. And if you're headed out to a family brunch, you don't need your cell phone, and you absolutely don't need your Treo. Practice leaving them at home and revel in your digital nakedness.

3. Set expectations at work: Train your co-workers not to expect instant responses to e-mail, and let folks know that you check e-mail only twice/once/not at all once you're home. One way to do this? A quick line in your e-mail signature. And stop answering your cell after 7 p.m. You have the ability to screen calls. Use it.

4. Set expectations at home: Tell your spouse and your kids what your rules are for after-hour business phone/e-mail are. They will enforce those boundaries waaaay better than your bosses and co-workers will.

5. Geek it up: You can set a Blackberry to only allow mail from certain addresses (boss, major client, etc.) at certain times. If you must keep the thing on at night, at least make sure that every CYA e-mail from a co-worker doesn't distract from family. You can tweak your cell in the same way -- assign a different ringtone to high-priority callers and ignore the rest of 'em.

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  September 7, 2006; 6:30 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts , Tips , Workplaces
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Nothing to add but ITA with the points you made. Like all things, it's about setting boundaries and setting expectations at work.

And if you answer your cell phone at 7am on Sunday morning, you're part of the problem!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 7:21 AM

I live in the Atlanta area and the number of self-involved parents is tremendous.

When I take my 2 year old son to play at either an indoor-inflatable play place or regular playground I see lots of parents sitting talking on cell phones for the entire time they are there.

I'm playing and interacting with my son when we are there...and these people's children are seeking me out for attention. That's a sign that your children are looking for someone's attention because they are getting what they need from Mom and Dad.

Unless you are saving the world (and you need to recognize you probably aren't)...turn it off and let your kids enjoy some time with you instead of seeking out strangers.

Posted by: Dennis | September 7, 2006 7:33 AM

I put my cell down when i go home (or in my purse when i go out on vibrate) periodically i check it, if the message is clearly life or death i will answer it, otherwise, when it is convenient to me I answer it, usually via email.

This also trains people into leaving messages that explain what the problem is. The message "Call me immediately!!!" does not usually merit a response, the message "Please call me immediately because the x is broken, my car is in the shop and my dog just ate a bag of rasins and I don't know what to do" merits a response (as well as probably a trip over to help them.)


Posted by: ljb | September 7, 2006 7:46 AM

For a long time, only my husband had my cell phone number. It's an "emergency use only" device. Then I gave it out to my parents and my office, since I get one day a week off and am often away from the house. But as of yet, no one from work has used it. When I'm out of the office, my automatic reply e-mail and voicemail message make clear that I will not be checking e-mail or voicemail while out of the office (though sometimes I go ahead and check e-mail from home so I know what to expect when I get back, but at least no one is expecting me to get back to him/her).

I've had to nag my husband to get him to cut his Blackberry off at night. The problem isn't his checking it - he does not work once home. The problem is he sometimes gets e-mails from Asia, keeps his Blackberry on his bedside table, and it makes a noise when a message comes through, usually around 3:30 a.m.

The most important thing is to train your employer and, if applicable, clients. I do not work at a place that expects me to work weekends. One woman I know who used to work at a law firm missed a conference call at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning because it was set up at 7:00 a.m., and she didn't check her Blackberry that morning. It's ridiculous enough to schedule a conference call for 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, and even more ridiculous to do so with such little notice. But when clients are paying big bucks, they feel like they own you. Having the technology just makes it easier to expect to get everything they want when they want it. I don't think there were repercussions from her missing the meeting, but still . . . .

Maybe that explains why I saw a man reading his Blackberry or palm pilot or whatever in church one morning.

Posted by: Sam | September 7, 2006 8:04 AM

The cell phone, or "electronic leash" as I prefer to call it, is one of those vlis I refuse to own.

Here are a few more very effective tips to interfere with the lines of communication:
A) Train your 3 year old to answer the phone. Results may be entertaining.
B) Hold your screaming baby up to the mouthpiece and keep on saying "What?" this is extremely annoying to the poor soul on the other end.
C) I got talking caller id. Now I don't even have to get out of the Master's Chair to know who is calling me.

I'm not ashamed to admit this, but before the "Do Not Call" list, I used to regularly sick my kids on telemarketers. Just as there is a Suckers List, I think there is also a black list too.

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 7, 2006 8:12 AM

If you use Outlook rules to file non-essential messages to separate folders, you can choose not to forward these to the Blackberry. Less incoming = less distraction.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | September 7, 2006 8:22 AM

I am always stunned by the sheer number of people who let technology control them, instead of the reverse. Wireless communications technology is a tool, like the toaster and the light bulb. Use them when you need them and ignore them when you don't.

Use the tools to negate the impact that distance has on your business responsibilities. That's all they do, right? They reduce distance by simulating being face-to-face with another person or problem.

Well, during family time, the commitment is to be face-to-face with family. You should no more use your wireless tools with family than you would invite them into a meeting. If you're using the tools at home, it simply isn't family time. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it's a fact.


Posted by: Proud Papa | September 7, 2006 8:36 AM

I don't have a cell phone or a home computer, so I don't have any of these problems.

There were people who answered landline telephones during mealtime and these same jerks will continue to be Pavlov's dogs for the next waves of technology.

Posted by: June | September 7, 2006 8:46 AM

On the one hand, I agree that being tethered to a cell or blackberry is nuts. However, I got an hour of work done the other night on my laptop while my 3 year old sat on the floor and played trains. I don't see how this "counts" less than if I had been reading a magazine or sewing and he was sitting on the floor playing trains. Same thing at the park or the sprayground--I don't climb on the jungle gym with him, I sit on a bench anyhow, so as long as I look up from the blackberry every few minutes and admire his daring, he's happy...and my boss thinks I am working super hard.

Posted by: Arlmom | September 7, 2006 8:52 AM

Flip side of the situation - a lot of us who request more flexible hours or telecommuting options from our jobs use these technological devices as part of the package - I tell my boss I can be at work in minutes, and he lets me stay home with my baby...but I better then be available in minutes if he wants me. If I'm rocking my baby down, and the phone vibrates, of course I don't answer it - but it better be my top priority once the baby's asleep.
While I applaud setting boundries and separating work and family life, for some of us, it's hopelessly intertwined. If I said I wouldn't check my e-mail after 7pm or whatever, I wouldn't be able to work from home, and I need that option right now. Sad but true.

Posted by: working mom in FL | September 7, 2006 8:52 AM

Even though I'm a software geek in my career, I do not provide my cell phone # to my company. In fact, they do not even know I have one. They've offered to give me one, but I've refused. It's just not worth the aggravation.

The only time I even leave mine on is when I'm travelling and expecting a call from my wife.

Posted by: ViennaDad | September 7, 2006 8:53 AM

I have only a cell phone. I use it only when necessary, not for pleasure calls. Most of the time, I turn it off when I get home. I consider my lack of technological goodies to be refreshingly old school. The only other thing is my computer, which I can't do without. Blacknberries with audio reminders seem like a great idea (I used to have something similar to it at a previous job) but addictive and a form of ball and chain.

Dennis, your post give me deja vu. Haven't I read those exact words somewhere before on this or another blog? I once saw a mother gabbing away on a cell phone at the playground while her son was hitting, pushing and shoving other kids down the sliding board with his foot. But then, when you encounter women in the restroom who are talking and peeing at the same time, what can you expect?

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | September 7, 2006 8:53 AM

I teach a couple of college courses on-line and I could literally be on-line all day and all night (as I am right now). The thing that works for me is to set an actual schedule, as much as possible, and not deviate from it.

Our university has been pressuring us to give our students our IM accounts, so that they can e-mail us when they have questions about assignments and so forth. So far, students have been reasonable about not overusing the privilege (but I don't like feeling like every minute I'm on-line I should be teaching.) Besides, half the time they e-mail because they're having technical problems and then we just refer them to tech support anyway.

Regarding the telemarketer situation, I enjoy reversing all the questions and asking them again to the questioner. "Would you be interested in refinancing your home?" "Gee, I'm not sure. Did you refinance yours? How much did you pay for your home? What neighborhood do you live in?" It seems to throw them.

Posted by: Armchair Professor | September 7, 2006 8:54 AM

I work a email help desk and at the very bottom of many of the messages is the line:

Sent by my Blackberry handheld

So do people who have Blackberries think they are more impotent than those that don't?

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 7, 2006 9:03 AM

"...more IMPOTENT than those that don't."

Intentional finger slip? ;-)

Posted by: Proud Papa | September 7, 2006 9:08 AM

Most people (myself included) who use "Sent from my Blackberry handheld" or other similar message in their Blackberry signature do so because it will explain odd typos or abruptness, etc., that can result from using a Blackberry. I believe mine (work issued) even had that pre-programmed in. Don't be so quick to judge.

Posted by: PLS | September 7, 2006 9:10 AM

My work obtains and pays for a crackberry for all managers and above. They allowed us to cart our personel cell numbers to the blackberry, but I refused and kept my private cell. I have the blackberry set to automatically shut off at 8 PM and come back on at 7:30 AM on weekdays only. Anyone that might need to get in touch with me has my personal cell (mostly friends that are also co-workers), but they know that it had better be a big deal if they are calling me on it for work related reasons. I don't have children, but I am a stickler for "me time" away from work. I see this being more common in my generation (I'm 32) than in previous generations. I only hope that this will become more of a norm.

Posted by: Crackberry Hater | September 7, 2006 9:14 AM

I agree with Arlmom. I don't think there's anything wrong with working while your child plays.

But maybe it's just me (and Dennis), but somehow the cell phone thing feels a little different. I realize people have the right to do whatever the heck they want, but I would venture to say that the vast majority of parents who yak on the cell phone while they're children are playing aren't working or making appointments or anything of the sort - they're just yakking on the phone. Can't it wait?

Posted by: momof4 | September 7, 2006 9:18 AM


The "sent from my Blackberry..." came pre-programmed on mine as well. I'm not even sure if I can remove it, altho, I really haven't tried. We use it to let people know that we are not computer based at the moment so to expect short, typo-filled messages and the inability to review or send attachments. It does have its purpose.

Posted by: Crackberry Hater | September 7, 2006 9:19 AM

I agree with Working Mom in Florida. For my, my cellphone and bb are key players in my quest for flexibility and balance. I'm a lawyer, and clients expect me to be available when they need it -- it's part of my job responsibilities. But I also work a slightly reduced schedule (i.e., normal person full-time), so that I can leave at 4 most days to go get my kids. I absolutely would not be able to do that without my cell and bb -- probably once a week I'm doing conference calls from the Safeway or the parking lot at my daughter's school before picking her up.

Is it a little annoying that I can't just clock out at 4? Sure. But that is part of the job, and I knew it when I signed up for it. In the business world, you earn flexibility by demonstrating that that flexibility won't interfere with your ability to meet your client's (or boss') needs. I'm a professional, and I want to be treated like one, and not tied to a time clock. But the flip side of that is that, well, I'm not tied to a time clock.

Am I so important that the world would end if someone couldn't contact me immediately? LOL! But my clients would definitely look for other lawyers! And frankly, I have good clients and partners who mostly don't bother me unless it really is an emergency -- and who understand that I generally won't be jumping if the bb buzzes after dinner or on weekends.

So for me, it's not so much a burden to get a call or e-mail when I'm out of the office -- it just makes me thankful that I have the option NOT to be in the office when it happens.

Plus it's really good for killing an hour while waiting for my daughter's gymnastics class to finish -- I e-mail all my friends and relatives or play BrickBreaker. Dirty little secret: I bet at least half the time you see someone on their cellphone or bb, it's NOT business! I probably use mine as much to coordinate logistics, groceries, pickups, errands, etc. with my husband as I do for work! So maybe all those parents at the indoor kid playplaces aren't really thinking they're that critical at work -- maybe they're just bored and are looking for a diversion. But then again, I forget: we learned last week or so that it's not ok to admit that sometimes your find kid things boring. . . .

Posted by: Laura | September 7, 2006 9:21 AM

So the "Sent from my blackberry Handheld" explains the "Thx" typo that I get from so many people I help, and even a few lawyers. (not that there is anything wrong with being a lawyer)



Posted by: Father of 4 | September 7, 2006 9:27 AM

The "sent from my Blackberry" message is apparently pre-programmed and endorsed by RIM, the hardware maker. You, or your sys-admin are free to remove it.

Lets not be naive. RIM does is because it makes people more familiar with their brand name.

Your cell phone does not say "sent from my Nokia" when you try to text message.

Posted by: Marketer guy | September 7, 2006 9:31 AM

I own a cell phone. It lives in the car and only my wife and my secretary know the number, and my secretary would never dream of calling me unless it was a really truly emergency, like to tell me the courthouse is on fire and to not bother coming in to work. I also hunt a lot by myself and carry it with me (turned off) when I go in the woods, so that if I fall out of my tree stand and break a leg I can direct help to find me. (I hope.)
Maybe it's a generational thing (my high school didn't have a single computer in the building until after I graduated and I had a chem teacher who insisted on teaching us how to use a slide rule), but most of the extremely wired folk I see are in their teens, twenties and thirties. Perhaps they just don't know how to live without these instruments of the devil?

Posted by: wihntr | September 7, 2006 9:41 AM

I work as a Systems analyst for the Federal Government. For 8 or 9 hours a day at work, I am parsing data, involved in Lan Network administration issues conference calls, analyzing powerpoint charts and graphs, and staring at multiple PC and Network applications all day. My computer died about a year ago and I have not replaced it. Recently, for the first time, I bought a cell phone, but use it about 2 times a month for emergencies such as road service, or calling my boss to say I will be late for work, if stuck in bad traffic.

All the techie and cell phone stuff has helped us all, but, I for one, enjoy going home in the evening to enjoy peace, quiet, and tranquility undisturbed by cell phones (I keep mine in my car glove compartment), email, computer spams, etc. I even got Comcast to disconnect my 60 dollar a month cable, as I hardly wathc the idiot box anymore.

As a single guy living alone with two cats you know what I like to do in the evening ? Read a good book ! I guess you might say that I enjoy "become Amish" when I am off the job !

Posted by: Craig | September 7, 2006 9:41 AM

"Dirty little secret: I bet at least half the time you see someone on their cellphone or bb, it's NOT business! I probably use mine as much to coordinate logistics, groceries, pickups, errands, etc. with my husband as I do for work! So maybe all those parents at the indoor kid playplaces aren't really thinking they're that critical at work -- maybe they're just bored and are looking for a diversion."

So THAT explains why the guy was on his Blackberry during church! Maybe I should look into getting one . . . .

Posted by: Sam | September 7, 2006 9:53 AM

'as long as I look up from the blackberry every few minutes and admire his daring, he's happy'
arlmom, that's great, you are interacting as much as your child desires! its a balance, giving children enough attention but not too much.

Posted by: experienced mom | September 7, 2006 10:00 AM

News for Craig. The Old Order Amish are using cellphones. The midwives were required to carry one for birth emergencies and now Amish construction workers and many farm workers carry one. They can charge them up with bicycles. They have taught me to balance any use of technology with actual needs. I disconnected my cable TV in 2002.

Posted by: thw2001 | September 7, 2006 10:02 AM

I have no idea how to check my voicemail messages on my cell phone--never learned, never will! I also rarely keep my cell phone on. Oh well!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 10:02 AM

Hey Craig!

Single guy with 2 cats! Have I got a girl for you, or not.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 10:07 AM

I believe I said "typos or abruptness", and "Thx" would fall into the latter category. Again, so quick to judge that you can't even read and comprehend an entire post.

Posted by: PLS | September 7, 2006 10:09 AM

to the anon poster at 10:02 IF you don't know how to check your voicemail at least either learn how to leave a message saying you don't check it or NEVER give out the number to anyone other than a close friend who knows you don't check voice mail. If it is work or your child's school or the other parent in the carpool leaving you a message you could end up with a big problem.

I find voice mail one of the better features of my cell phone - if the phone goes off when I can't or don't want to get it I know I will get a message if the call is important. I am old enough to remember the days when most people did not have answering machines at home and you had to keep recalling and hoping you will get someone as opposed to leaving a message. I find voice mail helpful.

Posted by: NoVAsinglemom | September 7, 2006 10:11 AM

PLS, I'm judging you to be a lawyer with a Blackberry?

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 7, 2006 10:18 AM

Thanks for the advice...few people have my cell phone number. Half the time I can't even remember what it is. Truly, it's just for my convenience when I need to make a call--I'm not interested in keeping it on and answering it.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 10:19 AM

I have the opposite problem in that my husband and friends will call me on my cell phone during work hours or send me silly e-mails with crazy attachments. I remind them that I'm working and that I'll call them later, but they call again the next day. When I'm at home, I get tons of IM messages (I have to be on IM for work) from people just to chat. It annoys the heck out of me.

Some friends and relatives try the house phone first, then my cell phone, then my husband's, then send e-mails...

I got the cell phone so I could be there in an emergency (which is why I won't turn it off at night), but it seems like people think that having a cell phone means you just like to talk all day.

The idea of setting boundaries is good, so I can understand telling a client "it's family time now," but how do you tell a friend or SIL you don't like them calling so much?

Posted by: Meesh | September 7, 2006 10:23 AM

By the way, at my last job I worked from home a lot, so I constantly had people from work calling my cell phone. On one hand I felt really important (first job out of college and I'm needed on the weekend!), but after a while I realized that they were just calling to check in on me and make sure I was working.

Posted by: Meesh | September 7, 2006 10:26 AM

I AM that important and my kids understand that daddy has to answer his cell phone and e-mails promptly. Putting bread on the table depends on it. Sorry that not all of you can relate to that.

Posted by: Anon | September 7, 2006 10:30 AM

I would fully support an immediate ban on Cell phone usage while driving. The combination is deadly. How many needless lives have to be lost before we all realize that this world of constant instant gratification is hurting our society?

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 7, 2006 10:43 AM

I can totally understand. Some people have to be connected the majority of the time. I'm sure kids understand if you have to take, what, like three minutes, to respond to a call or e-mail. I mean, doctors who are on call have to abruptly stop what they're doing and go to the hospital. It's a fact of life.

Posted by: To Anon | September 7, 2006 10:44 AM

I don't check voicemail either. No one at work has my cell number. If the phone shows any missed calls, I can check the log of received calls for the number of the incoming missed call. Then, I just call back if it is school, family, etc.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 10:46 AM

Father of 4, I completely agree. Ditto for putting on make-up, eating, entering addresses into your navigation system, changing DVDs or CDs, and reading (yes, I've actually seen newspapers spread across steering wheels in stop-and-go traffic on the beltway).

Repeat after me: The car is not a toy. All of those things should be done outside of the car. Better time management is all you need to greatly lower the chances of killing yourself, your family, or someone else. Or maybe you can just be late once in a while. That, unlike driving while distracted, won't kill anyone.

Posted by: Meesh | September 7, 2006 10:49 AM

Sorry, lecture over :)

Posted by: Meesh | September 7, 2006 10:50 AM

To the poster who only checks the missed call log. If your phone is off or you are not in a signal zone and it goes straight to voice mail it may not show up in the missed call log (at least with my nextel/sprint it doesn't always)

Posted by: NoVAsinglemom | September 7, 2006 10:53 AM

Great column today. I'll add a rule on humility:

1. You're not actually that important, and neither is your work. Don't get me wrong, I mean that partly tongue-in-cheek. Of course you're important/special, we all are. And our work is too. But keep your ego in check and your humility and sanity by not over-valuing yourself or your organization, so that you can bring the best of yourself to work by being renewed through time away, through private/family life.

And the bit about, "You own the device, not the other way around." Too true. There's actually a spiritual saying about the extent of our personal posessions that says the opposite; "We don't own our posessions, our possessions own us." It says this to spur a better, more conscious relationship to our possessions. By coming into proper relationship to this concept, whether with clutter and tchatchky, or with technology, we can keep it all, you guessed balance.

Life is short. Not a one of us needs to be a slave to anything. Its all about choice and freedom. If not, its one helluva sucky ride.

Posted by: Sarah S | September 7, 2006 10:53 AM

Meesh, I agree (mostly) but you can't legislate common sense. Using a cell phone while driving isn't terrible by itself. Depending on the situation, it doesn't decrease safety any more than having a conversation with the person next to you. It only becomes a problem with the driver uses it (or has a conversation with a passenger) when full attention needs to be spent on the road (traffic, bad weather, etc.). True, a cell phone has other issues (like dialing, texting, reading) that a conversation doesn't have but just answering a call isn't different from a conversation (assuming hands-free setup).

Posted by: Father of 2 | September 7, 2006 10:54 AM

When I see someone driving too slow, or they're driving erratically or are slow to react--I look at them, and sure enough, they're on the cell phone! I've seen article that say cellphoning while driving is as bad as drinking and driving--they don't mix!!!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 10:56 AM

thanks NoVasinglemom - I'm still not checking voicemail. People who need to get in touch with me have my work and home numbers, so I can check my messages there. The cell is only on when I am not at work or home. I lived for over 30 years without a cell and I will be fine without voicemail now :-). I haven't yet come across a true emergency where my husband and I both have been unreachable. If the carpool messes up, it won't kill the kids to wait a while.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 11:00 AM

In the 1970's when I was growing up, if the phone rang you had to answer it to see who was calling. And you had to stand in one place because the cord was only so long.

If you called someone and they were on the phone, you got a busy signal. If you weren't home, you missed the call--and you didn't even know you missed it.

Computers--what was that? Until I was about 13 and TRS-80's came out. Email...not even invented.

Car phones? Cell phones? What was that?

Blackberries? Just something you ate.

Needed to send someone something. You put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and in a few days they'd receive it.

Along those same lines, if you wanted to cook something, you put it in a pot on the stove or in the oven. No microwaves.

If you wanted to watch TV, there were about 5 channels--no cable. And it was black and white, and you had to tune the signal with rabbit ears.

Were people less stressed back then?????

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 11:06 AM

I don't have a cell phone. I can't swear I'll never have one but in the mean time I'd just as soon not have an additional monthly expense. And I don't want to be that connected. I've had a few friends say, "but it's good for emergencies." Well, maybe. But somehow when you don't have one, you still manage to deal. Besides, practically everyone else has one so you can often use theirs. :)

Also, sometimes you just want some peace and quiet. I'm amazed by the number of people who can't seem to just go for a walk with their kids/spouse without taking their cell phone with them. I'm annoyed because I'm out for some peace and quiet or at least conversation with my family. I want to hear the birds chirping or the brook babbling but often I hear people having some (often loud) nonimportant conversation instead.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | September 7, 2006 11:12 AM

Were people less stressed back then?????


Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 11:13 AM

Yes it was better back in the '70s noone wasted time at work participating in blogs ;)

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 11:17 AM

Dennis: This gets to an overarching point -- if you're typing with your thumbs when you would otherwise be sitting around doing nothing, mobile devices are great. If they keep you from being with your kids, not so much.

To ljb: Every high school should include, as part of the curriculum, a class on how to leave a sensible voice mail message (and write clear e-mail subject lines). Part of the reason I hate voice mail is the waiting around for someone to get to the point.

To Sam: Blackberries by the bedside frighten me, both because that vibrating sound is grating enough during the day and because I hate to think that my early-morning e-mailing is disturbing the slumber of my West Coast colleagues.

To Product of a Working Mother: The world would be a better place if everyone spent an hour getting their e-mail tweaked and folderized and automated. Nice tip.

To Proud Papa: The trick is figuring out what to ignore. Clearly, for most of us, there is *some* event that is worth getting us off the couch at 9 p.m. (the building is on fire! the server is down! your boss has fled to the Bahamas and you have to run the pitch!). The question is whether you have a system -- both in terms of technology and expectations -- to filter out the wheat from the chaff.

To Arlmom: It only counts less if you would otherwise be interacting with the kid, and technology has nothing to do with it. My daughter will attest that I am perfectly capable of ignoring her with nothing more than the morning paper. She usually lets me know it, and I feel just as bad as I do when I'm caught sneaking a Blackberry peak.

To working mom in FL: Exactly! It's all in how you use it. I spent a long time as a freelancer, and that was the bargain: I only worked eight hours a day, but I had tremendous freedom to pick which eight hours.

On Blackberry signatures: I deleted my "sent from my Blackberry" message. I don't really want clients to know that I'm texting from the Metro. And I don't want to have to apologize for my grammar. I am a writer by trade, and I grew up with an English teacher as a mother. If it's worth saying "thanks" to someone, it's worth typing the entire word. (Or -- for Pete's sake -- figure out how to use the AutoText feature if you are truly too pressed to write stock responses.)

To Crackberry Hater: You can automagically shut off your unit at pre-set times? Sounds like a great way to guard against the natural tendency to check, check, check.

To wihntr: Keeping cell numbers secret is probably the best way to retain power over the phone. We should all be so lucky.

To Craig: Yup. You're a single guy. Us parents could smash all of our gadgets with a hammer and still be unable to "enjoy peace, quiet, and tranquility" in the evenings :)

To Anon: Dan Snyder? Is that you? I'm honored!

To Those Stuck in the 1970s: Back to the initial point: technology is neither good or bad. I love having the technology options, and I think I'm waaaaay better off. It's all in the management of the gadgets.

Posted by: Brian Reid | September 7, 2006 11:27 AM

>>.Were people less stressed back then?????



Which people? The people off fighting in vietnam or the people back here getting firehoses and dogs turned on them?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 11:29 AM

As soon as I got my blackberry I removed the "This message from Blackberry..." signature.

If I was forced to use one (and I am), then I would take advantage of the benefit. I can type from anywhere. No one needs to know that I am out of the office.

Posted by: Really, I hate blackberries | September 7, 2006 11:31 AM

Driving studies have found that cellphone users tend to stare almost straight ahead while driving, rarely scan the edges of their vision, and react slower to emergencies than non-users. The level of reduction in average reactions is similar to that of a legally drunk driver, in fact!

What is interesting is this reduction in perception and reaction takes place whether the user has a handheld unit or a handsfree unit. IOW, it isn't the device, but the conversation that is causing the distraction.

The worst example I saw of driver distraction was a woman with a map over the steering wheel, holding a pencil in one hand and writing with it on a pad of paper stuck to the windshield, with a cellphone held to her ear by her shoulder, cigarette in her mouth and a cup of coffee in her other hand. This on an interstate going 60-70mph, too!

Posted by: John | September 7, 2006 11:33 AM

Hello Mr. thw2001 | September 7, 2006 10:02 AM

This is Craig. Thanks for your comments. Doesn't suprise me that the Amish now use cell phones. So do I. But like them, it is for urgent needs and emergencies, not for idle yakking.

Posted by: Craig | September 7, 2006 11:54 AM

I use my Blackberry while stopped at traffic lights, driving straight-aways, and while my daughter plays on the tot lot. Does that make me any less important than some coffee-swilling soccer mom? I hate my fellow man and my children, and I'm thankful that the Blackberry finally gives me an excuse to ignore them all.

Posted by: Paul | September 7, 2006 11:55 AM

My theory on advances - They help out at first and make your life more convenient, but then we all start using them to make life more difficult.

Take faxes and FedExes for example. At first they were probably great because they gave you more time to meet deadlines. You could wait until the day something was due, improve upon the product, and get it out with some level of confidencet that it would reach its destination. But then people started expecting you to turn around things quickly because they knew you got their fax, FedEx, whatever. A client could send you a fax at 1:00 and expect a response by 3:00. Good old-fahioned snail mail wouldn't result in that.

Then there are blackberries and cell phones. Your life is easier because you can go home, go to the school play, etc., and still be plugged in for a work crises. Otherwise, you might not be able to take the time off at all. But then that's led to expectations of 24/7 availability. We make technological advances to make our lives easier, but there's something in our society that ends up using them to increase the demands on everybody. I just don't get it. That's why I'm glad the government is too cheap to buy everyone a blackberry. If you're not important, you don't get one. I'm glad I'm not important!

Posted by: Sam | September 7, 2006 11:56 AM

As a single twenty-five year-old male (exactly *why* I read this column perplexes even me) I can attest that we are a gerneration that will only know how to contact a person, rather than a place. Phone numbers used to be like addresses--each was linked to a certain location, now phone numbers are like ID tags/SSN and they are affixed to us 24/7. Even email is becoming too slow for us...we need text messages, Facebook updates and MySpace bulletins to make sure we are on top of EVERYTHING. I also realize that older people think that this is a waste of time and energy--and it is. But it is also allowing us to become excellent informational filters. Marketing and advertising companies are now going to have to become more clever than ever. We are also becoming more skeptical than ever before, as well. I have more to write, but my cell phone is ringing, my email box notice is flashing, I have a text message to return and someone wants to add me as their friend.

Posted by: twenty-five | September 7, 2006 12:00 PM

[how do you tell a friend or SIL you don't like them calling so much?]

Meesh, I've also found this trick to be quite effective:

when you answer the phone and find out who it is and think "oh, no! Not that person now." this is when you talk in a cheery, upbeat voice like you have something exciting to share. then suddenly in the middle of the sentence in the middle of a word, hit the reciever button.

Wait for 3 seconds, get the dial tone, and leave it off the hook for about 15 minutes or so.

A similar trick can be used when you are in an elevator waiting for the door to close and one of those irratating persons in the office yells clear down the hall, "Hold the door!" Just act startled, and instead of pressing the "Door Open" button hastily press the "Door Close" button. Hopefully the door will close before they get in and the last thing the irratating person will see is your "attempt" to help them out.

Reality is 99% perception!

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 7, 2006 12:18 PM

This 'need to be reachable' isn't just a technology issue - it's a measure of either our self importance or our enabling of neediness in others. I don't think I'm all that important - but if my partner can't reach me to ask me where her socks are, or my daughter can't call and ask me what there is to snack on after school (they are both capable of answering these questions independantly, BTW) then the sky falls and frogs rain down on our heads. If I don't answer my work phone, my cell phone starts ringing madly (even if I'm in the ladies room and have left the phone on the desk, on silent).

Perhaps the answer is to take the cell phones away from those who have them to frantically call those who don't really need to be panicked over missing socks (or software that needs to be installed, or the presentation that isn't finished but isn't needed until next week, or....)

Posted by: RebeccainAR | September 7, 2006 12:27 PM

I am so with ArlMom. Although I hate my husband's crackberry and have installed an electronic fence to keep it out of the bedroom, it is really worth noting the positive impacts of technology upon parenthood.

Moms have lots of energy for work -- they just can't be chained to strict office hours. Facetime is the working mom nemesis.

Ever since I've become a mom I've been immensely thankful to remote email and cell phones for letting me work while the kids eat dinner or play at the park. Work counts as work even if it's done during a five-kid playdate or at 11:30 pm in your kitchen. Another reason I'm so glad I put in years of work and education before becoming a mom -- so I could get to a nice management plateau and be able to take advantage of the flexibility that comes with it. What's terrible is that moms in less senior positions don't have the freedom and flexibility to take advantage of the new tech parent approach to combining work and parenthood.

Posted by: Leslie | September 7, 2006 12:32 PM

I think the boundary setting shouldn't just apply to family time, but to public time as well. I am sick of listening to (and being held up by) people on their cell phones at public places like restaurants and the grocery store! And since I can (unwillingly) overhear the conversations, I know they are rarely important. I bring my phone with me in the car in case I break down...and it stays in the car!

Posted by: CJB | September 7, 2006 12:37 PM

I've had a few friends say, "but it's good for emergencies." Well, maybe. But somehow when you don't have one, you still manage to deal. Besides, practically everyone else has one so you can often use theirs. :)
The ONE day I went to work and forgot my cellphone, and didn't go back to get it, thinking "I won't even need it at work," my car broke down. Go figure. It was a blessing in disguise, though. The person who stopped to help me knew the tow truck guys, so I didn't get stiffed, and his son works on cars, so I got the repair work done for about a fourth of what a service station would have charged me.

Posted by: Mona | September 7, 2006 12:37 PM

I totally agree. I recently got a Blackberry to stay one step ahead of my boss.
My four-year-old asked me to throw it in the ocean when he caught me e-mailing from the sand on the beach.
It's not only addictive, but it really annoys the kids who are trying to have an unplugged conversation with their parents.

Posted by: UplanderMom | September 7, 2006 12:44 PM

Technology addiction in the Gen Yers or Millenials:

While riding my bike on campus -- 28 minutes at a fast clip walking to get from one far end to another -- the brrrrrriiiiiiiigggggggggggggggg bell worked fine. Fine, that is, until about three years ago.

Now, nearly all students are plugged in to ear buds or other iPodie thingies and Blue-toothie ear clips.

The low-tech students talk on their hand-held cell phones between classes.

Thinking about getting an air horn, to signal my way through the throngs.

Posted by: College Parkian | September 7, 2006 12:45 PM

The other thing a cellphone is good for is security.

There's the (Sprint?)commercial where the guy says "Try to take my cell phone." His buddy tries it and the guy hits him in the face with the cell phone. Very ingenious and just in time for football season.

(Just in case you think this is off-topic, I'd like to point out that families can hit each other in the face with their phones as well.)

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 12:49 PM

I've had a few friends say, "but it's good for emergencies." Well, maybe. But somehow when you don't have one, you still manage to deal. Besides, practically everyone else has one so you can often use theirs. :)

I remember before I got my cell phone my car breaking down on the beltway during rush hour. It was not fun. It was January so it was dark. A nice man stopped (I am female) and asked if he could help. He did have a cell phone - so I borrowed it to call the husband to pick up the child at day care and the husband called me a tow truck. I refused the ride from the stranger and waited for the tow truck. It meant the husband had to scramble more. Didn't have a way to get back with me to let me know everything was OK with the kid. And finally if we all assumed someone else will have one in an emergency no-one would.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 12:51 PM

"And finally if we all assumed someone else will have one in an emergency no-one would."

But, but, I always depend on the kindness of strangers.

Posted by: Blanch Dubois | September 7, 2006 12:57 PM

Does anyone else think it's funny that there are so many men on the blog today? Throw out a topic having to do with technology -- computers, car engines, stereo components, etc. -- and they can't wait to dive in.

No offense meant, guys. It's nice hearing from you all. :>)

Posted by: pittypat | September 7, 2006 12:57 PM

SIGNAL? as in signaling from yesterday?

Blackberries, etc. if overused, perhaps signal:

I am important. More so than You. Fear me. Step aside. I should go first.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 1:04 PM

'This 'need to be reachable' isn't just a technology issue - it's a measure of either our self importance or our enabling of neediness in others'

right, and right. Turn it all off and talk to your family.

(Lawyers, you are just in a different category, as you must respond to those pesky clients, who pay your hefty salaries.)

Posted by: experienced mom | September 7, 2006 1:12 PM

I did some thinking (maybe I'm overthinking/justifying? ;o) ) on why using a cell phone is different to me than working on your laptop, using your Blackberry, reading the newspaper, sewing, doing the Sudoku, reading a novel, or any of the countless other ways people occupy themselves while their kids play at the park or do gymnastics or whatever the case may be.

My 3 year old and I just returned from the duck pond where we ate breakfast after taking the older kids to school. After we ate, he fed the ducks and played around while I read the newspaper. Was I ignoring him? Well, sort of, intermittantly. ;o) But if I'd been on the phone, I would have had to either be rude to the person I was talking to when he yelled "HEY LOOK AT THIS!!" or needed help with the over aggressive duck or just wanted to chat, or just ignore him completely. Anything else, I can put down and give him the attention he needs and wants.

Posted by: momof4 | September 7, 2006 1:13 PM

The story about the car breakdown reminded me of when my car broke down on Route 95 before the invention of cell phones, or at least before they were used by most people (I'm really old). It was the late 1980s. I was in my early 20s. A number of people were kind enough to stop, but I was afraid to get in the car with them. Luckily I had a number of quarters so I gave one away every time someone stopped and asked him/her to stop at a pay phone to call (1) the police or (2) a towing company. I also gave one woman from Northern Virginia the phone number of a friend who was expecting me there, so when the woman got home she could call my friend and tell her I would not be able to make it. Eventually a policeman showed up and called a towing company. Not fun! It would've been nice to have a cell phone then. Thank goodness for helpful strangers. Though I do not know whether the policeman just happened to see me or had been called.

Posted by: Sam | September 7, 2006 1:13 PM

SIGNAL? as in signaling from yesterday?

Blackberries, etc. if overused, perhaps signal:

I am important. More so than You. Fear me. Step aside. I should go first.

Perfect. I'm glad we understand each other. I absolutely should go first because my time is far more valuable than yours. Why can't more people understand that? My kids certainly get it, and besides, they'll get over it. A little disappointment never hurts anybody.

Posted by: Anon | September 7, 2006 1:30 PM

I've had a few friends say, "but it's good for emergencies." Well, maybe. But somehow when you don't have one, you still manage to deal. Besides, practically everyone else has one so you can often use theirs. :)

"And finally if we all assumed someone else will have one in an emergency no-one would."

Well, I don't really assume that someone else will have one although they often do. Fortunately, I haven't had the kind of emergency in recent years that having a cell phone would have mattered that much. I do remember driving a cranky car one summer in 1993 where in the space of a week I broke down twice-once on the beltway and once in the middle of Connecticut Ave. Both times, some kind of official emergency road assistance helped me out (and fairly quickly) and fortunately, both times were in daylight. And all without a cell phone. My point was more that while a cell phone might make these emergencies a little bit easier to handle, you still find a way to deal. And I'm not sure that the cost (financially and the feeling chained to yet another tech thing) is worth it for the potential emergency that, at least in my case, I haven't experienced in many years. And, of course, there is the Murphy's Law factor, as the story above talks about leaving the phone home the one day there IS a break-down.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | September 7, 2006 1:58 PM

I'm so glad we didn't have cell phones as kids. "You're 5 hours late!" "Well, I couldn't call you because I was at Barb's house, and her parents don't believe in phones." There's no way I could have done half the stuff I did if I had had a cell phone. So many nights of fun would have ended with a phone call. On the other hand, when I got into trouble, it would have been nice to have a cell phone.

Are parents having to tame the technology tiger for their kids?

Posted by: Meesh | September 7, 2006 2:05 PM

Meesh, I know we are having to deal with it with our 13 year old. She's got an iPod shuffle (Christmas present, and she buys her own music - but keeps her occupied on car trips) and a cell phone (split custody, four parents that work and needs rides to/from school events sometimes with no notice) and we have yet to let her con us into getting her a laptop (she's got a perfectly good computer in the living room that we can monitor). Of course, with her being 13 we've had our share of oops moments - leaving it is lessened since she's got to stay within 10 feet of the parents when we go out unless she's got her phone, so she remembers, but we also have incidents like last week's 'close encounter of the lawn mower kind' when she ran over her cell phone with the electric mower. It doesn't get much easier for adults, but we're hoping that giving her limited technology at an early age she'll learn boundaries and limits inherently instead of having a $1000 cell phone bill her first time as an adult (which I almost did) and will learn to turn it off during family time (we have a no cell phons at dinner or during family TV or game time rule, which she follows without argument now).

Maybe the solution for all of us unbalanced adults is to give the kids the tech early so they can learn to balance as they learn to balance puberty and all the rest - maybe the lessons will be more ingrained and I won't have the crazy lady with the coffee, cell phone, mascara and three screaming kids behind me anymore.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | September 7, 2006 2:28 PM

No cell phone for teenager, one computer for family, placed in a "public" place next to kitchen. iPod ok - but no video iPod.

Posted by: Erin | September 7, 2006 2:44 PM

Rebeccain AR writes: "Maybe the solution for all of us unbalanced adults is to give the kids the tech early so they can learn to balance as they learn to balance puberty and all the rest - maybe the lessons will be more ingrained and I won't have the crazy lady with the coffee, cell phone, mascara and three screaming kids behind me anymore."
Re younger teens
How about less technology as an option? We used a cell phone as a "here-take-this-with-you-so-you-can-call for-pick-up."

None of my children have an iPod now. I want them to pay for one/half. SO at this point, they have made the decision to not invest. One buddy WASHED his iPod and cell because they were in the cargo pocket. (Omg!)

I don't mean this as a critique. I just want to say that staging the technology or having the technology belong to the family, with appropriate use by members is an option to bring up the next digital direction.

Sometimes we just need the "permission" to go against the grain. My two younger children walked home -- sans cell phones. They crossed Route One at a light. Younger one started at age 12. So many neighbors called me on their cells to say, "Percey and Penelope are walking home. I'll bring them, if you like." (subtle query about is this SAFE?!!!)

Yes. Safe enough. They need to learn to cross at the light. Now a few more children are walking home on sunny days, crossing at the light. Together. Safety is better in numbers.

Posted by: College Parkian | September 7, 2006 2:51 PM

For those who want the cell phone "just for emergencies", we just found the right phone for my wife. Although I am connected (I am one of those system administrators that RebelDad exempted in his blog) and on my regular electronic leash, my wife doesn't care for it. She has the phone, leaves it off most of the time, turns it on when she is calling me (like when I need to pick her up at Metro or we need to meet at a mall or other busy place). She has a gov't rate plan that is cheap ($13.99/month--only 20 minutes free). But we found that Virgin Mobile has a PAYG plan that only requires $20 every 90 days. All minutes are 20 cents prime time and 10 cents off-peak. Pretty basic. And perfect for DW. We'll probably save money on this deal.

So, we have one leashed and one emergency and we're both happy with it.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | September 7, 2006 2:53 PM

next digital direction

OOPS. Bringing up the next digital generation.

As for the crazed lady in the car, with mascara....well, she can hire out as a Tammy Faye (Baker?) impersonator or remind us of Katherine Harris, the mascara'ed Floridian who is now running for Senator....with less mascara.

So, hire a style consultant for that crazed women. Or send her to "What NOT to Wear."

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 2:54 PM

This is off-topic but the idea of giving your kids a cell phone made me think about it. Someone told me their dad used to set his alarm clock when his teens were out on the weekends at night. It was set to ring 10 minutes after their curfew--so, to avoid getting in trouble the kids had to come home, tiptoe into his room, and turn off the alarm clock. If they were late, the alarm clock went off...and the kids were in deep trouble!

Posted by: Off Topic | September 7, 2006 2:56 PM

I was less stressed in the 70s, 'cause I was mostly under 10. :-)

I do think it's important to think about whether the technology is working for or against your goals and act accordingly. I like my cell phone and use it a lot to coordinate both work and personal things. Plus the case makes a great distact the baby toy.

Posted by: Shandra | September 7, 2006 3:04 PM

"one computer for family, placed in a "public" place"

From what I understand, this is one of the major recommendations for protecting kids from internet predators and weirdos - they're more susceptible when they can be locked away in their room online for hours on end.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 3:07 PM

I have two teenagers (well, one is 12, but the "teens" appear to start earlier now!). My oldest just started high school and the 12 year old is a 7th grader. They don't have cell phones and unless something changes drastically, they won't be getting them. They are never where there isn't a phone they can use - they are either at school, the library, with their dad who has a cell phone, or at the swimming pool. I don't buy into the "but they need one so they can call you to be picked up" thing. Just because the majority of people in our society carry cell phones now doesn't mean that phones aren't available for kids to use in places that kids congregate.

Posted by: momof4 | September 7, 2006 3:14 PM

momof4 - Our son's only 3, but when we inevitably get asked if he can have a cellphone, I plan to use it as a lesson in financial management. He may certainly have a cell with whatever bells and whistles he'd like, IF he can pay for it on his own. I want him fully aware of the underlying costs of having one.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men...

Posted by: ConantheLibrarian | September 7, 2006 3:39 PM

Hmmm...I remember problems when I was a teen. I always had an emergency dime in my shoe or pocket, whatever. Then one time, I got to a phone booth which ate my emergency dime. I had to walk quite a ways in the dark to get to a non-pay phone and my parents were pretty worried when they couldn't find me. I also know a friend who ended up getting a cell phone because it was cheaper than buying a newer car and her car was a danger to break down. She was very leary of the Samaritans who might stop to help she got a cell phone. All sorts of "what if?"

One alternative, is to get a FireFly which has no keypad, only five keys and a directory for up to 22 pre-programmed phone numbers (which parents can program in). The basic phone goes for about $100 and comes with 30 minutes.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | September 7, 2006 3:49 PM

momof4 - 'I don't buy into the "but they need one so they can call you to be picked up" thing'

my kids have cell phones (14 & 17) because the pay phones were removed from the schools due to lack of use. Some of their activities end after the office personnel are gone for the day. And sometimes the call is not for a ride home. Once they are driving, it might be "I'm finished practice, may I go to my friends to do homework?".

One thing to be careful about is getting the phone numbers of the friends houses. My 17 year old came home a few times when she asked to go to a "friends house" and I required a call from the house phone once she arrived. It's very easy to lie about where you are when you only use a cell phone.

Both teens have an iPod - the 17 year old worked and paid with her own money. The 14-year-old received it as a gift from her friends. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she told her friends that all she really wanted was an iPod, so she was saving allowance and avoiding thinking about wanting other things. The friends pooled their money (10 friends), and gave her one birthday gift iPod from all of them.

For parents of teens, it is possible to suspend service on a cell phone. My daughter was quite outraged when her phone priveleges were shut down due to some behavior issues.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 3:54 PM

I'm one of those annoying people who talks on their phone in public places like the store, while walking on the sidewalk etc. I do try to stay very aware of my voice and not exceed a normal conversational tone (I too hate the people who think they need to shout into these newfangled devices). And my calls are absolutely personal, chitty-chatty stuff that can wait.

I do it because I'd rather catch up with a friend at times like that than take time away from being with my child. Working full time makes family time precious - being on the phone with a friend interferes just as much as being on the phone to work. When my son sees me on my phone, he starts saying "mommy done talking!" because he wants me to pay attention to him, and there are days that I don't blame him (no, I do not give him in to him every time, I mention this to demonstrate that my being on the phone can take away from my time with him). But I don't want to lose touch with friends who don't live close by either, they're important to my sanity. So I call them when I'm out running errands sans baby. Not the best solution, but the only one I've found that works for us so far.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 4:09 PM

Oh, and I should clarify that by "personal" I don't mean intimate details of my health, marriage etc that I wouldn't want anyone to overhear, I just mean as opposed to business. It's the type of stuff that I would talk about in a public place if my friend were actually there, and you would still overhear us.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 7, 2006 4:22 PM

I made a deal with my employer, I'd buy the Treo, have it as my personal cell phone and they'd pay the data charge. Why? Because I didn't want my cell phone number on my business card and on our website.

I give my cell phone # to very few clients and those I give it to are told not to share it. My secretary does not give out my cell phone number (and has been at the receiving end of some angry people because of it)

I like my Treo and getting email on the road, but I chose when to read it and respond to it.

Posted by: Dan | September 7, 2006 4:37 PM

Only 1 computer per family? I don't think that will work for our family. I gave 1 of our computers to the single mother of 3 school age kids. Now we are down to 3 online computers, and that still isn't enough sometimes.

My wife and oldest daughter have cell phones on the family plan. So far so good. Except for a few small text-messaging charges, the free-time hasn't been exceeded, yet. The younger kids share the cells if it's convenient. Funny thing, I don't even know my daughter's cell phone number, but then again, why would i ever need it?

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 7, 2006 4:37 PM

Speaking of the dangers of conversations in cars...

Does anyone else think that the four people in the VW Jetta commercial, yakking about who cried in the sob story movie, run a red light just before they are hit broadside? Just before the accident, there is a shot from the driver's seat out the passenger's window. The light that way turns green, so the people in the car must have a red light, no?

My wife doesn't understand why I don't like to "chat" with her in the car. Music, however, should be played at full volume, unless you might blow the speakers.

Posted by: Working Dad | September 7, 2006 4:49 PM

We also only have one computer for our family of 6, and it's in a "public place" -the dining room. All of us use it - we just share!

Re: kids and access to phones - until this year, my older kids have gone to a school that is in the same complex as the public swimming pool and Boys & Girls Club. The B&G Club is open weeknights until around 7:00 and the pool until 9:00 or so - so even if the school office is closed, they have been able to use a phone at one of the other buildings. I think that has happened once or twice in three years. Now that my oldest is at a high school which is located outside of town and far from anything else, I have given some thought to a Firefly or something similar for the off chance that he is at school when the office isn't open and needs to call. But it's my firm belief that about 99% of cell phone use among teenagers is for social reasons and not emergencies or phoning parents, and I just don't buy into what I see as hype.

Posted by: momof4 | September 7, 2006 6:58 PM

Easier said than done, especially for the men. I threatened to throw my husband's Blackberry in the Grand Canal when we were in Venice this summer. But at least he doesn't bring it into the bedroom.

Posted by: PunditMom | September 7, 2006 10:44 PM

Meesh: do you have caller id? If so, don't answer the phone if you don't want to talk to the person who's calling. Call them back at a better time for you (i.e. after work). Don't feel guilty about it either. Owning a cell phone does not obligate you to talk to anyone who calls it.

If you're concerned that they might be calling about an emergency, check your voicemail after they call. If you do this often enough, they'll get the message that there's no point to calling you to chat during the day.

I'm not a phone person-- I just don't like to chat for hours with people, and I love having caller-id. I can answer the calls that are likely to be urgent immediately, but finish whatever I'm doing with my kids uninterrupted if it's something less urgent.

Posted by: yetanothersahm... | September 8, 2006 12:15 AM

Re: what to do with the kids...
I thought I knew that we'd do the "only one computer in a public place" internet safety plan, until dh and I dscovered how convenient it is to have laptops on a wifi network. Now we have 3 laptops, and even though only one kid can read, I still have to kick somebody off to check my email from time to time.
At the moment their access to the internet is limited by their own illiteracy, but that will change. Since I don't believe we'll be able to complete monitor them, we'll have to rely on teaching them good values and good sense.

I hate to think of giving a kid a cellphone, but I guess at some point it makes sense. I believe I'll stick them with a pre-paid phone, though.

Posted by: yetanothersahm... | September 8, 2006 12:23 AM


Good advice. I used to screen my calls with caller ID, but that leads to the inevitable complaints "why don't you ever answer your phone" and "what's the point of having a cell phone if you never answer it" and "what if it were an emergency." I got called out on it a few times, too, which made me feel guilty. Plus, like you, I'm not a phone person, so I almost never remember to call people back when I get home. So that leads to them calling more often to catch me at a good time, which is usually never.

For me, the key to happily owning a cell phone would be, like you said, to not feel guilty.

Posted by: Meesh | September 8, 2006 8:15 AM

I find the comments that --people who are on their blackberries all the time think they are more important-- interesting. Because that has not been my experience with BBusers. Most I know are extremely paranoid and uptight and live in constant fear of dropping the ball. Not at all of self-importance -- just the opposite. They think they need to keep proving themselves or people won't think they're good/attentive, etc. enough.

I am a lawyer, so maybe we're just an insecure bunch ;)

Posted by: Anonymous | September 8, 2006 10:54 AM

If you put the computer in a public place, how are the kids going to surf for pr0n?

Posted by: Kevin in AK | September 8, 2006 2:27 PM

I recently enjoyed several days at a time at the beach with no internet, checking my email intermittently at the public library a five-minute walk away. But in the past 24 hours, having just installed my first-born in college, and having failed to arrange to buy him his own cell-phone (our family owns just one, to cut expenses, and shares it on an as-needed basis), the internet has saved my sanity. My college freshman has been able to communicate with me effortlessly by the wireless system in his dorm and elsewhere, carrying his laptop around when he needs to.
I have high-speed internet thanks to my brother, with whom I'm staying since he lives very close to the college.
I am so grateful that we've arranged our goodbye online. Maybe we'll dispense with the cellphone altogether for college??
Is there any college kid out there w/o a cell phone? My son didn't have one in high school and survived just fine. I did notice the girls he dated carried cell phones and their parents called them as their curfews approached.

Thanks for advice!

Posted by: suzanne goode | September 9, 2006 10:37 PM

Story 1
I was in a movie and the man in front of me was using his Crackberry, ignoring the movie and his kids. After a couple of minutes of the glare in my eyes I finally told him that I would call security if he didn't turn it off.

Story 2
I just went to Yosemite for a week of camping, just me and my boys, 8 & 9. I was sitting in this little theatre and was about to watch a free movie "The Spirit of Yosemite" I turned to a lady next to me and said " The best thing about being here is that my cell phone doesn't work, and we won't be interupted by one going off in the movie" Yup, five seconds later the man directly in front of me had his cell phone ring. Everyone in the place stared at him as he answered it. I was so angry I said " Why don't you drive to Fresno to take your call?" I think they should shut down the tower there.

Posted by: Lovingdaddy | September 11, 2006 12:56 AM

And if you can't tame technology, pretend you can by wearing a geeky t-shirt. You can find great ones at

Posted by: Sunny | September 11, 2006 7:44 PM

"And if you can't tame technology, pretend you can by wearing a geeky t-shirt. You can find great ones at"

These are not geeky t-shirts! Most of them are just >= semi-offensive.

Posted by: Fract'l | September 11, 2006 10:35 PM

Let us face the truth. Many of us escape to work because it fills a void. Kids can be a real pain, I would rather take a call from a client any day. At least they value me and my time. Work is the perfect escape from family.

Posted by: Scott | September 20, 2006 11:05 AM

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