The best memories are the unplugged ones

My wife has this odd fascination with the Hallmark Channel and its endless variety of feel-good movies and romantic television shows. She tells me that she enjoys watching the channel because everything on it is "easy on the brain" and there are no stress-filled dramas that play out week after week. When she's in a Hallmark kind of mood, you will usually find me in the next room doing something else.

But last night was one of those stormy nights where the best option was to hunker down and seek comfort under the electric blanket. Our kids were occupied with books and other activities, so I took the opportunity to connect with my wife with one of those easy on the mind Hallmark shows. Thankfully, it wasn't some cheesy all-too-perfect love story where girl likes boy and boy doesn't know but when he does find out he loves her back in spite of the fact that there was someone else in his life prior to this new love but it's all okay because he really wasn't happy or committed to this other girl in the first place. Got that?

Instead, we watched an episode of The Waltons, the show about a mountain family that was set in the 1930's and filmed in the 1970's. If you've ever watched a show like The Waltons, then you already know that it's not some action packed racy drama filled with crime, deception, adultery, and mayhem. Instead, it is one of those shows that depicts a simpler way of life with the focus being on family. Now I know that what is on TV is hardly representative of reality, but I do appreciate the effort of portraying family life as healthy and worth the investment.

In the episode that we watched, Mr. and Mrs. Walton were about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. There was a buzz of excitement around the Walton homestead - what was Pa gonna do special for Ma and vice versa. Mrs. Walton had a rotary phone (Google it) installed in the house so that they could receive and make phone calls. Prior to that, the only access to a telephone they had was inside the building that housed the Walton family business. The fuss that ensued over there being a phone in the house was crazier than what a bunch of hyped up bratty kids could generate on Christmas morning. A phone in the house. Are you serious?

Mr. Walton was not one to be outdone. He had arranged for he and his wife to get their pictures taken by a fancy photographer in town. And to top it off, he had secretly built a beautiful gazebo for him and his wife to enjoy together, and they spent part of their evening dancing to music on the phonograph and talking to each other. Of course, the kids showed up with Grandpa in the middle of their romantic evening, but even that was okay. Grandpa brought a bunch of blankets so that Mr. and Mrs. Walton could sleep under the stars on their anniversary night.

So, exactly in what dimension does this kind of life really exist? Was life really that simple or have we romanticized a time in the past that really wasn't all that romantic? Since I was not alive in that era, I can't say for certain how accurate those portrayals are. But, I do have the benefit of being born during a time before technology controlled our lives as it does today.

No, I'm not going to go off on some "When I was a kid..." tangent. But then again I kind of am. I do remember looking at my parents when I was a kid and uttering those regrettable words: I'm bored! Before the words were even off my lips, I would quickly be shown the door to the outside world. There was no computer for me to gaze into, no cell phone for me to hunch over. Sure, we had an Atari game system, but there was a limit to how many times you could play Pac Man or Space Invaders on a grainy television screen. I know it sounds crazy, but when I got bored I usually just went outside to play.

I love technology just as much as the next guy and I don't know what my life would be like without it. Yet when I see the Walton family getting all giddy over a phone in the house, it makes me blush to think of all the times I get flustered when I can't keep a WiFi signal. As I watch one of the Walton boys spend a quiet evening on the porch swing reading a book or playing his guitar, I feel shame at how many times I've scrolled through the hundreds of TV channels I have access to and been frustrated because "There's nothing on!"

The truth is, I have allowed technology and entertainment to control much of my life and my schedule, and in that I am not alone. Admit it, when you have a few minutes of free time then 99% of you will power on your phone or click on the web to check social media or news sites. What ever happened to reading a book or sitting outside on the porch enjoying the day or simply talking to a person face-to-face? Playing in the creek behind the neighbor's house or organizing a game of kick ball has been replaced with closed-door gaming or texting sessions. Shoot, I can't even enjoy the beach anymore because I am too busy editing and posting pictures on my phone of my beautiful surroundings. I miss simple and I have no one to blame but myself.

Think about some of the best memories of your life. How many are centered around family and friends and travel to different places? Now ask yourself how many of those memories center around watching late night television or endless texting or hours in front of a computer screen. Unless you are part robot, I'll wager that most of us don't have many recollections in the latter category.

So how do we change all of this? We take the time that we have instead of letting the time take us. Leave the phone plugged in and go outside. Read a book. Talk to someone face-to-face. Visit a friend and sit outside with them. Play in the woods and discover crawdads in the creek. Stay outside playing so long that your mom has to call you home when it's supper time. Plan a day trip to location that has poor cell service. Whatever you choose to do, never forget that the most endearing  memories that we have are the ones where we invest our time in each other, not in electronic devices that fit into our pockets. It's time to unplug.



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