My friend Sara sent me an email: “Linda, Sorry that I’m not able to call you back. My phone fell into the toilet.”
We live in a world where phones can fall into toilets because our phones are following us everywhere. Untethered. Free. Free to fall into the toilet.
Last week, a high school sophomore told me that she brings her phone into the shower with her–in a Ziploc bag. She didn’t want to miss an incoming text message. When I asked her if, in her sleep, she had missed life-altering messages, she looked at me blankly.
We are better at rationalizing what we do than being rational about what we’re doing.
Untethered technology gives us the freedom to do nearly anything, anytime, anywhere. It can also enslave us when we feel compelled to use it wherever it is. Technology is neutral. How, when and where we use it is up to us.
When I recently visited an old high school friend in Ipswitch, Mass., I witnessed something unusual for most families today. Everything had a place. Cell phones were used at people’s desks. Computers were used at desks. The kitchen was a place for meals and family fellowship. Family members were fully present for conversations–enjoying eye contact, listening and a meaningful exchange.
I mentioned this to a friend living in the Silicon Valley area, a former high-tech executive. She approved. “I moved the computer out of my kitchen. Now it’s in the office. The office is an office, and the kitchen is a kitchen. I love it.”
“Freedom” [free-d uhm] is the absence of or release from ties, obligations, etc. The promise of a phone that could go anywhere was and is the promise of freedom–freedom from being tethered to a place.
“Enslave” means to bring into servitude. Our phones have enslaved us even as they set us free.
How is this also true? Because we can, we do! Because we can, the phone accompanies us to the toilet, to the shower and to bed. Because it rings, we feel compelled to see who is calling and, often, to pick up. Because we can be accessible, we feel we must be accessible.
Is “freedom” just another word for nothing left to lose? Let the phone keep ringing the next time someone calls and you’re in the midst of something else. When the caller later asks you why you didn’t answer or where you were, you can smile and say: “I’m free. Free. I’m free to enjoy being in the moment.”
And that’s when you will become more powerful than any gadget on the planet.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.