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.

  3. Well, I did comment on my own blog.... :) Your post is so good! You should polish it up and get it published somewhere!

  4. Long time, no read! :> I had computer classes in junior high/high school and got my first computer in college. I still don't have a smart phone. I have a flip phone that lives in the car for emergencies.

    And, in the examples you gave...I would nearly always choose the "before". Walking down the the dinner the playground...those are all moments where I choose to be connected to the moment and not to a screen. :> We were in a restaurant the other day and there were two moms with toddlers. One was in a high chair, one in a booster. Their mom's pulled out screens for them to watch movies. I was....gobsmacked. I couldn't believe it. Those children should have been babbling away and making a mess of the table, lol. Instead, they had that slack-jawed tuned-out look that kids get in front of a screen. It happens everywhere--kids in the grocery store, kids at the park, kids at the pool, kids on car trips. They can't just wait and be. (Being bored and managing it creatively used to be a part of childhood. I would argue it was a valuable part.) Their parents aren't engaged with them.

    Teens and phones are something I haven't dealt with much. My daughter doesn't have a smart phone. Her screen time is limited. Her texting/video calling is done on Skype on the family computer. I do know that our host girls were VERY attached to their phone. And, it was beeping away all night long when we were in the hotel. When one asked why I wasn't on fb, I told her I didn't want the whole world knowing what I did and thought. "Oh." she said. "I do."

    I have friends with young teens who have had extreme bullying and contact with pedophiles through social media. It has been to different extents in different families. But, I want NONE of that. Snapchat is one of the worst.

    There is a lot of interesting teen fiction written, taking this whole concept of "likes" to an extreme. It is thought-provoking.

    I *do* think people are reading fewer books, having fewer conversations and are not living in the moment. I also think they're sleeping less. Society has changed. There's no doubt. I guess I'm an old, analog soul. ;> What I am wrestling with is how to help our teens find a way to live safely in this new world.

    1. Hi Kate! There might be something to your final conclusions there about society changing. Like I said, I don't know what it would be like to be going through puberty or having a child going through puberty in the age of social media. That's a different aspect from just keeping a child busy for a few minutes. And I'd definitely want to protect my kids from social media drama. As to toddlers in a restaurant, do you really think people used to take toddlers out to restaurants often? And would allow them to make a mess? How did they keep them busy? I guess in the old days we used to color with the free crayons. My husband grew up watching a lot of TV and I remember peers playing video games, so I don't think that aspect of screen time is new, just more portable I guess? Another thing you brought up is that kids should be allowed to be bored, which I agree with, BUT I don't know how much parents should be involved. I guess part of the time can be spent interacting, but I don't think the parent needs to be constantly entertaining. They need to provide tools, but even with that, I don't think you have to have the art project all planned out, just have access to the materials. I think the "boredom" approach works not only when you keep screentime minimal, but when you also give the child space to explore. On the other hand, good conversation and direction are key to learning as well. I get so bored on the playground...I just can't react and cheer for every little thing. Are you an extrovert? Maybe it is a personality thing?


Just added word verification to reduce spam. Nothing personal!

You’re welcome to leave a link to your own blog here if it's relevant to this blog.

Please make sure that your comments are 1) relevant and 2) respectful (i.e. no cuss words, attacks on individuals).

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...