I know payback is going to be a bitch on this one.
Every time my kids call me on the carpet for doing something on my phone instead of paying attention to them, my mind casts forward to the inevitable moment when they get a smart phone, and I never (in a sense) see them again. They will have gone down the rabbit hole as sure as Alice did in Wonderland, perhaps not to return until they have kids of their own and need Grampa and Grandma to babysit.
And so I try to be as good as I can about it. I am decidedly not a big user of social media, and I actually believe it to be quite destructive (ironically) from a social point of view, as opposed to a work-related one. Even with my limited usage, I have worked to reduce phone time further by deleting Facebook and Twitter from it — the former because I think it truly the devil’s tool, and the latter because of its addictive nature (one can scroll down forever).
I am, admittedly, addicted to the news and devour all things political from morning till night, so my challenge here is to read it at the right times (not when I’m supposed to be interacting with the children). When it comes to reading books I have, for years, enjoyed those in two ways. I’m a voracious consumer of audiobooks and, to a less extent, digital books that I download to my phone. Though I have bookshelves full of the old printed stuff, I hadn’t bought one in years. That is, until I realized my kids were calling me on the carpet for that too.
Once I realized that doing anything on my phone was annoying to the boys, I did the seemingly unthinkable — I ordered an actual printed book (this one was Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson). So now, when the kids are on their fourth episode of Sponge Bob (which I like) or the first of this awful new show “Cousins for Life,” I can sink back in the couch with one of them resting against me, and drift off into the 18th Century. Because they can see I’m actually reading a book (something they are supposed to be doing), I’m setting a good example, and they don’t feel abandoned.
I see this abandonment all the time.
- The other day at the gym, a man met his wife in the café. I could hear him pouring out his heart about his rough day as she scrolled through her Facebook feed.
- I was at a restaurant the other night with Parker and saw a middle-aged husband and wife having dinner. He sat mute with his wine while she scrolled through her phone as it sat on the table next to her plate.
- I was at Starbucks sitting next to an employee receiving her review. As she attempted to answer questions such as, “How are you going to improve?” the manager who had just asked the question was texting away.
As our society continues to digitize and become ever more electronically interconnected, we must make it a priority to maintain “presence” when in the company of other humans. I mean, if we so badly want to be with the person on the other end of that internet connection instead of the one next to us, why don’t we just go? The funny thing is I suspect when we got there, we’d be right back on the phone interacting with the person we just left. I have seen something like this among adolescent girls, where four of them sit at a table all deeply immersed in their phones instead of with each other. It makes a fascinating picture – the four devices almost touching as if uniting their computing power would spawn some portal to another dimension. While almost ignoring each other in person, I suspect they are all interacting both with each other and others in a larger group.
I know I sound like an old man, and I’m surely on my way. But perhaps mixed in with my out-of-touch discomfort is just a touch of truth. Perhaps buying that printed book was the right move for both me and the kids. I’ll tell you what, I actually like reading it better than doing so on my phone — it’s easier on my aging eyes, and might just make me feel a little less guilty when my boys go down the rabbit hole.