hansAs a good friend of mine recently discovered, competing with the allure of a smartphone or tablet can be a losing proposition. She had looked forward to a friend’s visit only to find that friend hooked on one of the many addictive online games, such as FarmVille, and too engrossed in its constant action to engage in conversation or respond to direct questions. Although they were sharing the same physical space, they might as well have been continents apart.

For some, their electronic device of choice is an extra appendage too important to amputate. We have all seen the photos of families gathered around a fireplace, each with their own smartphone or tablet to keep them company, or pedestrians flipping through their email, oblivious to oncoming traffic. The latter reminds me of one of the parables in Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter. It is the story of “Hans Guck-in-die-Luft,” who is always gazing skyward as he walks and therefore paying no attention to what is in front of him. As a result, he trips over a dog in his path and falls into the water. Of course, smartphones and tablets were not around in the 19th Century when Hoffmann penned this story, but the lesson is still a relevant one – life is richer – and safer – when one is present for it.

Coping with the relentless march of technology may seem like an uphill battle. However, if you are looking for respite from the ubiquitous electronic device, relief may be only a cup of tea away. Try this experiment: Steep yourself a cup of tea, sit in a quiet spot, and hold the cup with both your hands. You will find it very difficult to click and scroll on your device with both hands thus occupied. If you also happen to have friends or family nearby, you may rediscover the art of conversation and the art of listening. Sure, Google may deliver the answer to any question that pops into your head, but how often does Google offer up just the words you need to hear or a gentle hug when you are going through a difficult stretch. Next time, toss aside the smartphone and grab a cup of that hot, steamy, and delicious drink known as tea.