SANDRA SANCHEZ: Unplug cellphones and plug in to real world - The Monitor: Columnists

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SANDRA SANCHEZ: Unplug cellphones and plug in to real world

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Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013 12:05 am

Meet Wally Alaniz.

I mean really meet him.

Because at age 31, Alaniz did something most of us won’t do: He gave up his cellphone last April.

He says he couldn’t be happier and has never been more productive without all the “needless distractions” it brought.

“It’s great. Without a cellphone I bought a home, traveled across the United States, bought a (classic) car and sold a (classic) car and my business is better,” said Alaniz, owner of Wally’s Bicycles shop on North McColl Road in McAllen. “I’m so much more focused and I’m getting so much more done.”

He wishes more from his generation would join him, he told me with a warm smile and unrushed sentences in what seemed like he had all the time in the world to just chitchat.

His attitude is so refreshing that I can’t help but come across as seeming condescending, or revealing my 40-plus age, when I say that I wish more young people were like him, (especially my loving, yet totally preoccupied, 20-year-old son who can’t go a meal without texting someone).

Yes, there are benefits to our society that come with the connectivity that smartphones offer. We have more access to information than ever before with endless statistics, breaking news and information just a nimble thumb stroke away. But are we better people? Are we better parents and children and co-workers when we are so absorbed in so many things at once?

A Pew Research poll in May found 91 percent of adult Americans have cellphones; 56 percent have smartphones. The survey found 67 percent of cell owners check their phones for messages, alerts or calls — even when they don’t notice their phones ringing.

I miss the days when people talked — really talked to one another. Nowadays, there seems to always be some fiber optic vying for our attention.

The Pew poll found

44 percent of cell owners admit having slept beside their cellphones so not to miss calls, texts or other updates during the night. Further proof that we’re plugged in 24/7.

We need to cut this tether to technology and appreciate all that our world offers. But when

29 percent of those polled say their cellphone is “something they can’t imagine living without” then I doubt that we’ll ever, as a society, head

that way.

Alaniz says he is amazed at how hard it is for many his age to talk face-to-face with one another. They’d rather text or Facebook message. They don’t know how to use a phone book or read an actual map.

He admits that when he first went off the cell grid he feared that he might lose some friends or miss get togethers. But he says his core of friends stayed true. They find his little black address book that he carries about — dubbed his “Bible” — humorous and they go out of their way to reach out to include him. The others, he rightly discerned, were just spouting blather that he’s better off without.

So, maybe in a sense, he is having an impact because his friends are learning to communicate with him in other ways.

We could all use a little less drama in our lives. We don’t have to know every instant what is plaguing everyone in our circles. Live life now and tell someone about it later. Verbally.

Alaniz says since he gave up his cellphone he has had less stress and has learned new skills. He can ask strangers for directions, like when he’s lost alone out on a long bike ride with no map app or phone to call for help.

He has had some trouble picking up girls, however. “They all say: ‘Text me your number.’ They don’t know how to communicate,”

he said.

He does have a landline phone at his bicycle shop and an “old school” answering machine at his home, but apparently that’s not good enough for some prospective females.

Alas, I can’t advise him on the guiles of today’s modern young woman. I’ve been out of the dating realm for decades. But here’s another antiquated thought: Maybe there’s a book on that?

Sandra Sanchez is Opinion editor for The Monitor. Contact her at

Daily editorials expressed in The Monitor reflect the majority opinion of The Monitor editorial board.

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