Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What's wrong with staring at your cell phone?

Something has been bugging me and it's hard to put into words. I'm a millennial, also sometimes known as the "xennial" generation, characterized by having an "analog childhood and digital adulthood." I was 17 when I got a computer and started using email, instant messenger, Google, etc.

Wi-Fi childhood...

Meanwhile, Facebook wasn't really around until after my college years, nor did I have a cell phone until after college.

How about you?

I've been wondering lately what factors combine to form someone's attitude towards the internet and social media. Is it an age thing? Socio-economic? Personality?

Aside from that, there's a meme (image being passed around) with a few variations that shows a large number of people staring down at their cellphones. This is clearly presented as a bad thing, but no one comes out and says why it's bad. So I'm asking here, what do you think?

For example, one variation compares cell phone users to zombies, walking around without noticing the world around them. Again, let's define the actual problem...

A few things that come to mind:

-craning your neck
-not noticing oncoming traffic (hopefully not as pedestrian OR driver)
-harmful to your brain? Not sure what current research says...

Those are kind of the practical issues, but I have also seen people allude to the "decline" of society. This is where I get a bit confused.

1) Let's say I am sitting in the metro.

Before cell phones: Staring straight ahead, reading a book, studying the map of the city, taking a nap, etc.
With a cell phone: Texting, looking at photos of my loved ones, doing a digital crossword puzzle, studying digital content, reading a book in electronic format, using the Internet if I have 3G (4G) or whatever it's called. Zombie-like? I don't think so! When I used to spend 3-4 hours on public transportation each day, I would get so much correspondence done by sending texts while riding, or making a quick phone call on the long escalator ride.

2) How about walking down the street?

Before cell phones: Staring straight ahead, probably lost in thought, turning the map around trying to figure out if I'm going the right direction.
With a cell phone: Maybe chatting with someone on the phone (AKA in social contact), maybe looking at the GPS, maybe just walking along with the phone in my pocket or purse.

3) The art museum scenario

A photo was circulating showing a group of teenagers staring down at their cell phones, seemingly oblivious to the masterpieces in their midst. A sign of the times? Sure, but not in the way it was implied. It was later confirmed that the students were using their phones to complete an assignment for the field trip they were on. Maybe not the best tactile experience, but not missing out or wasting time, either.

4) The dinner table/date scenario

Before cell phones: Talking to each other. Or watching TV. What was/is it like in your house?
With a cell phone: Sometimes we have no gadgets at the table, and sometimes we have multiple. Sometimes I'm checking something on my phone and Andrei is on his ipad as he winds down from work. Sometimes the kids are watching a movie. Other times, we might be using technology to check an article and generate conversation. On dates, we don't usually use our phones, but sometimes we scroll through photos and look at them together.

5) The playground scenario

Before cell phones: Reading a book? Talking to other parents? Taking photos on a real camera?
With a cell phone: Calling your husband reminding him to stop at the store. Taking lots of photos. Texting friends. Or maybe not using your phone at all.

If we play alongside our kids on the playground, we're helicopter parents. If we get on our cell phones, we're negligent. I think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they're trying their best!

6) The SAHM mom scenario

Before cell phones: Always on duty, no chance to make a phone call or interact with the outside world except by sneaking onto the computer once in a while to check email.
With a cell phone: Having constant Internet access allows for a little bit of escapism, which can be both good and bad.

I don't know if I would really say that cell phone use is something to be alarmed about. I don't think people are reading fewer books, having fewer conversations, or too distracted to stop and smell the roses. Sure, some basic etiquette and safety rules should be observed, but I don't feel that being on my phone stops me from making conversation when I would otherwise (I probably wouldn't anyway in most situations, ha ha). In terms of healthy lifestyle, it's good to think about protecting your joints from overuse and your brain from getting overstimulated from all the online content. Moderation is key. As far as close relationships are concerned, I think it's just another thing to work through. Ask someone else if he/she is bothered when you're on your phone. Let your loved ones know if you'd like them to put their phones aside. It can't hurt to ask.

I don't know what it's like to be a teenager with a cell phone, as I didn't get one until after college. Of course as a parent I would worry about all the content and safety issues. But experimenting with certain freedoms (perhaps while still under your parents' roof) is also good practice for adult life. :)


  1. Coincidentally, I just posted a picture on FB appropriate to this conversation....and it does speak to me, but you have lots of good points, some of which I've had myself. Can't wait to respond in more detail! However, high time I pulled myself from the screen and read to Monnie!

  2. I wrote a whole long comment last night and then it got deleted due to my (lack of )Wi-fi, sigh.


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