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The Phone Setting That Every Parent Should Try

Jul 05, 2023

Published August 3, 2023

Lauren Sullivan

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The time I felt most judged as a parent happened just after my third child was born. As friends and family members conveyer-belted their way through my postpartum haze with onesies and trays of lasagna, they’d comment as I picked up my phone (usually to take photo evidence of their first newborn squeeze): “Ivy hasn’t made the cut?”

My iPhone’s wallpaper was a photo of my two older kids taken years before. They were sweaty and giddy, sprawled in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and it was a time capsule from pre-pandemic days: before they transitioned from toddlers to actual children, before a mid-lockdown exodus to Philadelphia, before we left our closest friends for a city we’re still struggling to find footing in.

My phone’s home screen was stuck in November 2019. The hit of nostalgia it gave me was enough to keep me from making a change.

In fact, I didn’t change it until almost a year after Ivy was born. At bedtime one night, I got lost in my iPhone’s settings and stumbled upon a feature called Photo Shuffle. I selected the option, which immediately turned my iPhone’s background image into the sweetest photo of Ivy, now a curious baby who has a masterful bum-shuffle and refuses to crawl or walk. I didn’t understand where the photo was pulled from, so I explored the setting further: Who else’s Featured Photos should I include in this Photo Shuffle? I selected each of my kid’s faces, passed on my husband’s and cat’s (sorry), and clicked Done.

When I hit snooze on my phone the next morning, I smiled. Smiling back at me was my middle child, Tess, proud of herself for independently holding a Di Bruno Bros bag full of cheeses and meats, our haul for a picnic lunch at our park down the street later that day.

On my way back from school drop-off hours later, I looked to see what work Slack messages awaited me. But I bypassed all notifications when I saw my oldest, now 8, grinning at me from my phone screen with only half a mouth of teeth on his first day of second grade. Without knowing it, I’d selected the option to rotate my wallpaper photo at the top of every hour.

For weeks, opening my phone sparked a sentimental surprise. Sometimes it was a peek at a photo from the thousands I’d never paid attention to, and sometimes it was a milestone—no more training wheels, the tooth fairy’s first appearance, landing in Dublin. Sometimes it was a souvenir from the chaos of parenting worth savoring.

Months later, the simple phone feature still makes me smile daily—sometimes hourly. And it’s pushed me to calculate, however roughly, the sheer volume of memories our family has made in this not-quite-home city.

We’ve explored Philly’s parks and museums, noshed at Michelin-starred restaurants and Cambodian strip-mall gems, walked and scooted countless miles, and watched our home teams go to the Super Bowl, World Series, and MLS Cup (in the same year! without winning any!). We’ve also grown our little family unit by one. Whether or not it’s home to me, it very much is to my children, who don’t even remember a place called Brooklyn.

That’s the power of technology. My phone is a source of mental-health woes and privacy concerns, and it can be a distraction from being present in my life. It’s also an incredible source of connection and convenience. I’m grateful to be transported, at the top of every hour, to a memory and time that fills me with joy and reflection.

The closest Android equivalent without having to download a third-party app is the Screen Saver feature in Settings. It cycles through select images or photo albums when charging, turning your Android phone into a digital photo frame.

This article was edited by Annemarie Conte and Caitlin McGarry.

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