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Enjoy sports -- life -- go offline


Enough with the poking and the stroking, the typing and the swiping, the tapping and the yapping on your smart phone, whose touch screen has become the new wishing well, each of us gazing into its glassy abyss in the hope that happiness lies at the bottom. For what's all that phone-probing -- at every child's soccer and swimming and skating class -- but an unspoken desire to be somewhere else?

If you're at a Little League baseball game, checking your fantasy team score from your phone, you are simultaneously engaged in two fantasies. The first is that you're managing a major league baseball team. The second is that you are present in any significant way at your child's ballgame.

Likewise, the fan attending one basketball game while getting smart-phoned updates of another is party to a modern miracle: Where once he could have followed just one game, he can now fail to experience two or more games at the same time, including the one for which he is present in body but not in soul.

Many stadiums allow fans to text the location of unruly drunks to security officials, pitting multi-taskers against multi-flaskers in a war of supremacy. I'm not sure I can root for either.

Consider this is a call to arms. Or at least a call to thumbs. As you read this column -- on your phone, while walking into a lamppost -- consider how you look to other people. Like the person sitting across the table from you in a restaurant, where the only apps on the table should be -- but seldom are -- the jalapeño poppers.

We've become a nation of phone-pokers, the sum of all our texting and sexting. You are what you tweet. A 23-year-old office worker in Bristol, England was tweeting during his morning run recently when he ran into a tree, blackening his eye. A 16-year-old in Ontario was texting while cycling and ran into a parked car, smashing its rear window. State legislatures have now had to debate laws to ban texting while walking, biking and boating in addition to the ubiquitous Texting While Driving.

The New York Times has reported on the multiple tragedies that have happened at pools and beaches while lifeguards were allegedly texting on the job. Because emergency rooms see so many texting-related accidents, the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians felt necessary to issue a warning against texting while "rollerblading or even [during] intermittent-contact sports such as baseball, football or soccer."

It fell on deaf ears. If you're texting while trying to turn a double play -- OMG! 6-4-3! -- you're beyond help.

Sports fans and weekend warriors aren't the only ones doing this, of course. Nearly everyone is, nearly everywhere. In a dark Broadway theater the other day, every other lap was intermittently aglow like some 4G firefly.

Mercifully, my 2-year-old last summer grabbed my iPhone and threw it in the toilet. I looked at it longingly before it sank from the surface, like DiCaprio drowning in Titanic. There was a quiet panic, a sense of loss and deprivation for two days, after which came liberation. I was never as far gone as those people you see reading e-mails in crosswalks, heads bowed as if to hymnals. But it was bad enough that when my 6-year-old drew Magic Marker portraits of her parents, my wife was holding a cookie sheet and I was holding an iPad. That was all the epiphany I needed, and I've been cold-turkey -- or at least cool turkey -- ever since.

You saw the woman who walked into a fountain while texting and instantly became a YouTube sensation. But the cure for all this is not a viral video. It's an anti-viral to the viral video, something that makes us less connected, less plugged in, less wired. The Orwellian truth may be that smart phones are making dumb people -- or perhaps just revealing them.

I realize the irony and hypocrisy of writing this on a website, that's being read on an iPad, while a Twitter address beckons from the top of the page, but our desire to be tuned in, at all hours, fills me with despair.

So what if I leave the house every Saturday morning, usually in the middle of a scoreless soccer game, convinced that a barrage of goals will turn the match into a 4-4 classic just as soon as I depart for the girls' ballet class. I still abstain from checking the score, from needing to know. Barcelona's tika-taka passing game is beautiful to watch. The tippy-tappy typing of a father on his smart phone, trying to get an Aston Villa score? Not so much, at least from the perspective of the kids in the dance class.

This is not meant as a Luddite screed against phones, or against the wonders of the wired world, but a simple plea to occasionally opt out. We've come to think of pulling the plug as a euphemism for euthanasia. But pulling the plug, in this case, means just the opposite: Not dying, living.