Tag Archives: smartphones

The Wages of Chronic Distraction

An astute friend of ours is visiting, and over coffee, the conversation turned to the challenges of raising our respective 13-year-olds. Wonderful kids, they are, who give us very little real trouble. But like many kids their age, they are pulled from either end by ambitions toward adulthood and the comforts and habits of childhood. It’s hard to instill, the kind of organization that fosters discipline and would leave them more time to do the things they want, even when you argue convincingly that there will be more goof-off time if only they will put work before play a little more often. Reason alone is not enough with some people, especially young teens, especially when it emanates from the mouth of a parent.

“I can come around the corner into his room,” I lament, “and he’ll be mid-video-game while there’s still science or social studies pending.” Our friend commiserates. My wife adds that even if the gaming interlude was a short jaunt away from work while looking up a legitimate homework question, this extra electronic time adds up. Sleep suffers, ours and his.

It often comes back to the electronics, doesn’t it? My son doesn’t even have a Facebook page, yet he is active on Skype, gaming and chatting with his friends. He is a big looker-up of things on the way to looking up other things, a good sign of a smart kid. I don’t want to restrict access to his computer and iPad in a ham-handed way; I’d rather he slowly build a lasting discipline on his own. Parental pipe dream? Maybe. But taking the blinky things away completely has to be a last resort, to my way of thinking.mommy_texting

Our friend has observed a more serious electronic wedge being driven into child life, though, this one by people who are beyond the disciplinary direction of others. She has seen parents like the one pictured, wheeling a stroller down the street and completely engrossed in the on-screen goings-on of their smartphones. The baby in the stroller is pretty much on her own.

Take away any safety concerns (not watching for cars, etc.) and you still have serious cause for discomfort that perhaps only a mother would divine. Before handheld computers, a Mom walking her child in a stroller would likely be singing a little song, remarking how lovely a day it is, pointing and saying, “See that bird, honey? It’s blue!” In a word, engagement: the basis of language, observation, interest, a mental foothold on the world and the path to enlightened alertness. It’s also a special brand of love.

I wouldn’t suggest that every moment in the presence of a baby needs to be filled with speech. (My wife and I still joke about a friend who had a baby about our son’s age. That little girl learned to talk way early because her mother had a habit of narrating her entire day like a sportscaster on caffeine. By the time she was 14 months, that kid had heard everything.) But the sound of a parent’s voice, the little facts, rhythms, and affections it conveys — these are the bricks and mortar of a well-grounded mind. The fact that parent and child enjoy such interactions makes them all the more precious.

But silently locked into smartphone torpor? It doesn’t work. Of course, the baby doesn’t know enough to be as upset as I am at the thought, the image of a child waiting for interaction, but just sort of…left out there to drift.

We all love the convenience and “neatness” of our smartphones, sure. No harm in that. But moderation in all things, right? Well…except in what’s good for our children.


© 2014 Adam Barr

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Siri and Me: It’s Complicated

Like you care.

Like you care.

O.K.; first of all, she hates me. I can tell. She thinks I’m a demanding martinet. You can hear it in the labored calm that regulates her oh-so-even tone.

“I don’t understand ‘theosophist-owned all-organic Indian restaurant in Bellingham, Washington.’ Would you like me to search the Internet?”

Ohhhhh sure; run to your little friend, the Internet. How are we supposed to grow as a couple if you just keep running from our issues?

Am I being unfair? What about my needs? She’s full of “information,” or whatever you want to call it. But the bi–…the woman simply refuses to adopt the voice and intelligence of Julia Stiles, Clair Danes, Anne Hathaway or Jessica Chastain and pretend that my every word is a linguistic rose, offered to beautify her world. Jesus; I just gave her a menu to choose from.

Not me.

Not me.

For my part, I try to avoid dropping into an endless Dr. Smith Cycle. You know, the hypersensitive “scientist” who regularly swished his verbal épée at the robot in the 1960s television series Lost In Space. The robot gave as good as he got, annoying Smith no end.

But warning, warning. What am I to do with this iOS strumpet? If I turn her off, I can feel her sulking through the candy shell case. If I turn her on, she has all kinds of suggestions. Many of them involve my sugar intake and cholesterol, and I didn’t see a setting for either of those. And evidently she has reprogrammed location services to allow her to tell me where I should and should not be. Have you ever been nagged from your pocket in a cigar bar? People stare.

Still, I am always looking for ways to find common ground. The other day, I asked, “Siri, can we have a glass of wine and talk?”

“This is about you, Adam, not me.”

Oh yeah. Suuuuuure it is….♦

© 2013 Adam Barr, except Siri®, who is all up in Apple ‘n’ that kinda shizz….

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