Everywhere I go, people hunch over, scrolling and staring down at their phones. You can’t go anywhere without seeing the device zombies: glazed eyes from the blue light filter, a small smirk from watching too many cute cat videos on YouTube, a bit of drool in the corner of their mouth in anticipation of the tacos being delivered from the UberEats app.
We rarely ever look up, even when facing danger. How many videos have you seen of people falling into maintenance holes? And do we even know what our food is supposed to look like without ten different filters applied to it?
What about our kids? I know from talking to parents in other families that mine is not the only one to be having trouble with devices taking over our lives. Devices are swallowing our attention worldwide, and it is starting to become a serious problem. Even in a family as close as mine, it has almost become an almost unbearable situation.
And we have a minor problem compared to some.
The place I notice it the most is when we go out to eat. My wife, daughter, son, and I were at Ikkoryu, our favorite ramen place in Iloilo. Now, I have a rule that when we are eating, there is to be no staring at phones. We were talking. A large family of about eight people came in and sat down across from us. As soon as they sat, everyone (even grandma) took out their phones and started scrolling. They were so mesmerized that the waiter stood next to their table waiting for them to order for 5 minutes before anybody looked up.
They didn’t say a word to each other — they didn’t even look up from what they were doing when their food came. The only movement besides scrolling they made was to take pictures of their food to post on Instagram.
We used to be just like them. In some ways, we still are.
I know that we have a problem because my wife and I noticed it yesterday. Flora sent me a message when we were in bed last night:
“It’s sad to think that we would rather stay on our phone and do our own thing when we are not tired enough to go to sleep. We don’t spend time and talk to each other. Before we talked for hours… now we’re lucky to talk to each other for 5 mins straight. I miss you… going to bed now. Goodnight!”
She didn’t say this to me — she delivered it through Messenger. We were a foot from each other, and we couldn’t even say the things that are important to our relationship.
This is a real problem.
It wasn’t always like this
I remember a time when our family was young (not that long ago), when phones hadn’t yet taken over everyone’s lives, and when we sat to eat or were riding in a car, we talked about our day and our hopes for the future. Sometimes we would argue, but at least we were interacting.
Slowly, over the past few years, Facebook fills our downtime. Now that data is so cheap, it’s easy to be staring at our phones for 16 hours a day.
Also, now that my daughter is getting older, she is starting to want to spend time on the phone as well. She doesn’t have Facebook and some of the other timewasters that her parents have, but she loves Minecraft and YouTube.
It used to be when she got together with her three cousins, they would play, laugh, and have fun. Now they all sit on the couch and play online games with each other. Hours can go by, and they won’t look up from what they are doing.
More and more each day, I become fed up with everyone staring at the phone (including me). My wife has also voiced her concern about our family being so distracted as well.
I know it’s long past the time that we do something about it.
I’ve already banned phones when we are eating, but that’s just the beginning. I figured the best way to make changes within my family is to lead by example. I’m going to drastically cut my screen time when it’s time to pay attention to everyone else.
For me, right before I go to bed is the key time. I tend to write and read all day, so the only time I scroll is right before bed. But, this is also an important time for my wife and me because it’s when we discuss our day and show love for each other. When you are as busy as we are, these moments become more and more important.
But, I am also worried about my daughter.
Zoey’s phone went out, and the screen needs replacing. Instead of taking care of it we have her watch YouTube on our new SmartTV. We can keep track of her screen time much better and see what she is watching. It’s been a week now, and it’s worked very well. The only time it was a problem was when she wanted to play Minecraft, but I let her use my phone, and she was happy.
But, most of all, I’m starting with me. I’m changing what I do every day before I ask my wife and daughter to change how they go about their lives.
I hope before long — my family starts to see how important it is for us to ditch the phones and start to spend quality time together. Soon, I hope it affects even the extended family when we all get together and visit.
I love technology, but I don’t like what it’s doing to us as a family.
When our phones become more important than the family, it’s time to make changes.