What I learned surviving Thanksgiving with no smartphone

Vinnie Oestriech, Fox Journal editor-in-chief. · The Fox Journal file photo

Thanksgiving Day: a time for family and pie and getting asked a million and one questions by distant relatives or, in my case, my girlfriend’s distant relatives. For many of us, we’d rather be scrolling through our Twitter feed than laying out our 10-year plan to that sweet old aunt that only sees you twice per year and never really comes through with a Christmas present, but always sends a birthday card. So when I’m asked about my 10-year plan, I can play it off like I’m 10 years behind in answering emails for work. I don’t have 10-year plan I can lay out at dinner in five minutes or less, but I do have 1,256 emails to read through.
Smartphones have become a huge part of life for most people; many of us can’t even run a quick errand without our smartphone. Sure, they are extremely important for communication, but they also have a nice way of helping avoid awkward social situations. I’m guilty of using my smartphone for this all the time.

To see what Thanksgiving is all about, I decided to ditch my smartphone for most of the day (except driving to and from Thanksgiving dinner), and, I will admit, it was not easy. I left it in my pocket as a way to build some self-control and that was about as hard as anything. Every time my phone vibrated, I wondered who it could be and what was I missing out on. Facebook notifications? Twitter? Instagram? My roommate calling to tell me the house is burning down? Feeling so disconnected was one of the worst parts about not using my smartphone.

For some reason, political arguments have also become an almost integral part of Thanksgiving. It is un-American to not argue politics, but at the same time, we are supposed to be giving thanks for what we have. I would bet that it is one thing that crosses all barriers of race, religion and the like. Everyone argues politics at Thanksgiving. The biggest difference is not being able to either distract yourself from the whole mess when you don’t have a smartphone and also not being able to fact check your drunk uncle who thinks anyone left of George W. Bush is a commie. Thankfully, my girlfriend’s family kept it decently tame on the politics subject, but at points, I felt my face get hot and start to sweat; I absolutely felt awkward, and I sure didn’t want to inject my own opinions in the discussion. It felt like the zipper on my pants was down, but I didn’t want to fix it because then everyone would be looking at me. Without a smartphone for distraction, I turned to another great American pastime: football. I don’t think I’ve ever been so interested in football as I was then. Everyone else was talking about healthcare and jobs, and I was thinking how ironic it was that the Cowboys were playing the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day.

Political conversation aside, we finally sat down to eat dinner. My phone had been intermittently vibrating for about the last hour, and by the time I was gorging myself on turkey, I finally forgot about those notifications and actually enjoyed talking to my girlfriend’s cousin Ciara and her boyfriend Mike at the dinner table. It was nice to be present in the moment.

After dinner is when the real kicker came. Ciara began to pass out envelopes to a number of people in the room to play a game. Each envelope contained the outline of a hand drawn into a turkey with either a number or letter written on. For any number of reasons, a handful of grown adults, myself included, could not easily figure out what the letters “I,” “P,” “R,” “A” and “L” and the numbers “0”, “7,” “1” and “2.” After about ten minutes of trial and error, we came to the conclusion that it spelled “April 2017.” I instantly blurted out, “Are you pregnant?” Ciara said “yes” and the whole room fell silent for a moment, then everyone’s eyes lit up and congratulated Ciara. Though a smartphone probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference here, I do think I could have said a few witty things about it on Twitter.

After a long day without my smartphone, I was eager to check my phone and almost broke by the time all was over with, but I managed not to. I wish I would have. I decided to pet this dog out of boredom and got peed on. Like all over my shoe and leg. I rather would have been scrolling Facebook than getting peed on by a dog. But, if I didn’t post a photo of it on Instagram, then did I really get peed on by a dog?

Overall, I am glad I put my smartphone away for Thanksgiving. I got to really be in the moment. Maybe we can all at times live in the moment, even if it requires us to put up with our drunk Republican uncle. Maybe our smartphones have become our drunk Republican uncle.