OP-ED: Social media robs families of human connection
I often see a father and son, about 10 years old, at the local Starbucks, each staring at their individual smartphones. They silently eat, but exchange no conversation with each other. They don’t even look up to glance at each other’s faces. I feel dreadfully sorry for the son, and even for the father who is missing what it means to have a son.
This is to me the apogee of the destructiveness of addiction to social media. I often see people glued to their phones — but a father and son having breakfast together, yet apart, is painful to witness.
I have no involvement whatsoever in social media, never have had. It’s easier never to start than to try to quit. I should talk. I’m a true Luddite. Not only do I have only a flip phone, I also have not owned a television for the past 20 years or so. I enjoy listening to NPR and classical music on the crisp reception of my Bose radio. I have no presence on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or whatever the addiction of the moment is. I do enjoy looking at YouTube, and when I realized it was taking up too much of my time and devouring space in my mind, I took immediate measures.
Using the computer was reducing my ability to concentrate, and I was determined to return to actual book reading to restore my ability to think and to reason.
I created a special reading space in my living room. I moved in a comfortable armchair and matching ottoman, bought a beautiful reading lamp with Tiffany-style shade and placed a side table for a smaller lamp and a coaster for my drink. There I sit and read, books from my own collection that I have never gotten around to finishing. My new setup is conveniently far from my desk computer.
Speaking of computers, I have been known to ask acquaintances with smartphones what they like about it. It seems to be a convenient way to pay for things, but so is a debit or credit card, or even — gasp — cash. I notice how vague their answers are, along the lines of “Oh, it’s amazing!” or “I don’t know what I’d do without it.” I don’t think they know what it adds to their lives, or they would be able to verbalize it.
I know what I am doing without it. I’m writing an essay on why I don’t need a smartphone. No one has been able to convince me that an expensive form of technology is necessary for my happiness. I rarely even use the flip phone, except when away from home and my near-obsolete landline. I keep the cell phone mainly for safety.
Some of the time I save by not using social media (except for limited e-mail to a few friends), I use going to the library to find new picture books for my 5-year-old grand-nephew. I read to him when he gets home from preschool almost every weekday. This is our quiet time together. He is fascinated by Curious George and can listen almost infinitely to the mischievous monkey’s adventures. He has preferences: He rejects stubborn pigeons, and he has reached his limit on Runaway Bunny.
Once I told him, “When you are 6, you’ll be in first grade and will be able to read books yourself.” He leaned his head back on the sofa, a beatific secret smile lighting his face. He would love to learn to read, I realized. And he will, because his home has no television and no computer either. He has absolutely no access to technology at the age of 5. I found “Curious George Learns the Alphabet” for him, and he enjoyed learning the sounds of the letters. But he is less interested in the technical aspects of learning to read at this stage. His free time — and he has much — is spent with his 7-year-old brother, practicing standing on his head, playing board games and visiting his 5-year-old friends nearby.
All this so many children are missing. My grand-nephew has a healthy 1950s childhood. Not so the 10-year-old son sitting, wordless, in Starbucks with his equally silent father, each in thrall to an inanimate piece of technology. How many parents have lost the human connection with their children, with their friends, with their world?
— Eileen Pollock lives in Baltimore.