I sit in a cafe where no one is talking. Everyone has their head down. Do they all hate each other? Are they depressed?
No – they’re staring at their phones.
A child pipes up in a train carriage with a reasonable question for his mum about their journey. At first she ignores him and continues to stare blankly at her phone. So does everyone else in the carriage. He asks again, a little louder. So she yanks her earphones out her ears with a vicious glare and screams at him to leave her alone – she’s already told him – will he shut up – and various other hurtful remarks. Then she returns to watching her screen. He has no such entertainment and has to be content with nothing. And learn nothing about interaction but a lot about how it’s okay to ignore one another if you’ve got a phone in your hand. For that’s what most folks are doing.
We recognise additions to drugs and alcohol but we’re soon going to have to acknowledge addictions to technology which some people use compulsively. Not to mention to excuse inappropriate behaviour.
Like alcohol changes behaviour and severe alcoholism can ruin relationships I fear that compulsive checking of notifications and absorption in social media or gaming could be sending us the same way. We may have more facilities than ever with which to communicate but is this diminishing our skills to do so in warm humane ways, face to face? Diminishing interactions which communicate feelings and meanings more accurately than a digital emoji can. It’s certainly in danger of ruining our parenting and trashing the responsibility we have of teaching kids how to be social.
People would once have chit-chatted to strangers at the next table, on the next seat or in the bus queue. Now we’re all heads down creating isolation and distance. We’re learning how to ignore the person next to us in the room – familiar or stranger – by engaging with others miles away, or by gaming, which can overtake the desire to connect with anyone at all.
It’s easier not to. Our phones give us a chance to disengage and close ourselves in a digital bubble, avoiding the slight social difficulty of face to face, eye to eye.
The trouble is, apart from the fact that it is deskilling the youngsters – well and the oldsters too who are supposed to be setting an example – disengagement leads to desensitisation. Desensitisation makes it easier not to care. When you care less you can commit offenses and crimes against others more easily, you can bully more easily, you can disassociate the responsibility we all have to care for one another and maybe be polite to one another which makes a day go round more pleasantly than screaming.
I don’t know what preceded the incident on the train when mum sounded off loud enough for the whole carriage to hear. I acknowledge we’re all driven to less than acceptable behaviour with our kids on occasion, although she kept it up all journey. But I do know that kid did not deserve to be spoken to like that – no one does. Or be ignored for the rest of the hour’s journey without anything to do. He needed his own phone! Better still, he needed someone to talk to.
We all do. However updated we all are, and connected as we need to be to modern communications, it is nothing more than hurtful to be in the company of someone who clearly seems to prefer to communicate with someone else. It hurts us all; child or adult.
And it’s something we perhaps need to give serious thought to as we parent and prepare our kids for the wider world. Phones are absolutely brilliant. But we have to consider and take charge of them and their place in society, not have them in charge of us. Or replace the time given to the warm loving interactions we all inherently need.