I was struck by a scene in my neighborhood earlier today. There was a toddler sitting in a wagon by the side of the road, wiggling his butt, obviously wanting the wagon to go. And his mom (or babysitter?) was leaning on a telephone pole nearby, with her phone in her hand. Texting, surfing, I don’t know, but she was not talking. And she had completely checked out.
It’s always seemed odd to me when parents disconnect from their children for long hours talking on the phone. We do all need breaks. And that’s not what I’m talking about. Before texting became a reality, there were plenty of people who could not disconnect from their cell phones. And before cell phones, they could not disconnect from their home phones. And there was a time before that when it might have been the back yard fence I guess. Now they can do it more openly and quietly by text.
I don’t know for sure what I think of it. On the one hand, I value good tools. And my phone, along with its texting capabilities, is a good tool. That said, I know when I had computer work to do at home when the kids were little, it was hard for them to understand why I couldn’t play sometimes. After all, to their little eyes, I was just sitting there staring at a brightly lit box. Sure, I showed them things and introduced them to a computer at an early age to help both of them with development, learn how to edit school projects, etc.. And later school came to require it. But still, until they understood and valued the use of a computer at all, they did not get it. At least a TV made noise and pictures. They could understand someone staring at it. They stared at TV too. But often a computer is a bunch of words, while mommy seemed to stare off into space. I had to work from home to make it work out to be at home with my kids. I would set them next to me with things to do while I worked, and I planned lots of activities together, but I couldn’t always just stop when they wanted.
There’s a Zen belief about being fully present in whatever you set your hand to do. I can’t help but ponder these things when I see people staring at their phones while a child goes unnoticed nearby. I’m not sure what I expect, especially as someone who values her tools, and as someone who probably doesn’t really know what was going on. But certainly I expected something different.
It’s a different kind of world our kids are growing up in. I know my grandparents saw that when I was a kid. I see it for my own kids. There’s always a trickle-down. Generations of latch-key kids led to generations of fairly self-sufficient adults. I wonder what the trickle down is here?