In the mouth a desert

They care a lot about their looks. They’re teenage girls, they’ve always been that way. But now it’s amplified by their phones, by the platforms. Everyone is on a platform looking at everybody else. Now that our kids are so fixated with how they look they never miss a chance to check themselves in the mirror. They move from the mirror to their phones and occasionally glance up. I’m desensitized to it now but I remember what it was like at first, watching them pose for selfies in the car. And how it went on and on. Like they’re oblivious to their physical surroundings. And that upsets me the most, how the phone has enabled a virtual world that’s siphoned our attention away from what’s real, that’s created a world with its own set of truths reflecting the worst of us like a fantasy mirror with a witch’s curse. See what you want to believe no matter the cost.

There are many comparisons to make with the smart phone because it does so many things! It’s a pocket-sized computer, to start. You can find recipes for anything in the world you want to cook. Take pictures, video, measure a piece of wood, scan QR codes, dictate, watch porn, light your way down a dark flight of steps, check the weather, track your step count for the day, buy anything you want, hear any song you want, even call your mom! Because it does so many things we carry it around with us everywhere we go. What can compare throughout all of history to a thing that could do so much? It is the most marvelous tool, it far surpasses the hunting knife, the flint used to start a fire, the compass.

So we give it to our kids when they turn 12 and start middle school (in case there’s a shooting), and then we get mad at them when they can’t put it down. The phone becomes a rite of passage, a form of identifying as a member of society at an age where kids are desperately grappling with their identities, the core of who they are, and when they get to the other side of that passage there’s the internet and Chinese social media waiting for them on the other side. And they’re soon to be exposed to drugs and things like self-harm (#KYS) as they’re going through puberty and learning about pandemics and war in Ukraine.

So getting back to our two teenaged girls (14 and 17) I look to the oldest and wonder how she’s going to reflect back on this period, if it will feel like surviving some brush with psychic ruin, a soul death, assuming she can get to the other side of what the cell phone and associated content has done to her.

Like many people around the world, two years of dealing with a plague and physical isolation naturally drove us to our phones. If and when we did go to a restaurant, our phones replaced the menu. The video calls replaced face to face. And on and on. The phone became the ultimate tool for “contactless,” revealing both its saving grace and downfall.

As parents we knew letting our kids sink into their phones was dangerous but we didn’t know what else to do. Their anxiety and depression deepened, as many suffered similar effects around the world. But in the dark of their rooms at night, having confronted the terrors of their minds and struggled with the meaning of their existence and so on, it is the phone that is the one thing even therapists say you can’t take away. It’s a life line. They don’t know what they’d do without it. That’s true, and that’s distressing! It has become not only a charmed mirror from a kid’s fantasy book, it’s a vacuum attachment fixed to their souls! A remote control turned back on us.

I sit at the stoplight in my car outside the middle school where I drop Charlotte off every morning and watch the kids cross the street with their phones in front of them like way-finding devices, like divining rods people once used to locate water underground. They believed some had the gift to divine water and the Y-shaped twig held by these diviners would magically lead them to the source. Those “divining” would jerk and twitch in response to the rod, or the rod would jerk and twitch in response to the diviner.

I wonder where the phones are leading our kids, are leading all of us, what it’s done to us and if it’s too late to undo. I think of our oldest and how it’s a part of her DNA now, it’s tattooed to her existence, and what I’ve heard about getting tattoos removed. It’s a real bitch.



Categories: parenting, writing

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29 replies

  1. Hmm…”Welcome to the desert of the real”, no?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Soon it will be implanted in our brains a la The Feed by Nick Windo.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Phew. That’s a penetrating and perceptive reflection, Bill. Sending virtual hugs. (Insert eye-rolling emoji).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The engulfing reality of the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sitting on the deck with a view North to the Grampians – awe inspiring rocks thrust ruggedly up through hard Western district ground – the crickets chirp, kangaroos gather in the paddock over the rail, birds cheep and I read from the phone as it broadcasts Venice Classico.
    Yours,
    Slightly over 17.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A tragic undertone to all this, since there’s an obvious “what would [she] be like if there was no phone?” comparison. I think you’re on to something with the reverse remote idea; it’s the phone that’s constantly changing our attention, but the question is, Who’s operating it?!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. People say “glued to their phones” and yes it’s like swimming in glue, impossible to think or move freely with these little captivating magic mirrors. The little shot of dopamine, sucks being addicted to a drug produced by your own body.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Addicted to a drug produced by your own body, is right. Tapping the lever for another hit, Pavlov-style! Has all been said before, still felt compelled to say it. Hi Robert and happy Sunday, hope you’re doing okay.

      Like

  8. 17 already?! Sheesh. My oldest will be 13 this summer. If it were up to me she wouldn’t have a phone, but it’s not, and she does. Got it at 12 and hasn’t been the same since. Only good thing about phone addiction is it’s actually pretty easy to break once it’s out of sight out of mind, at least from my experience. But then I got my first one at 32, not 12. So like you said, we don’t know what this is going to do to them, the young ones. Glad to see this from you, it’s been a while. Wondering if you got gottmaned yet. No need to answer out loud, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 17 is right! No to the Gottman, got side-tracked with other life stuff. Why is 12 the magic number for the phone, it seems? So screwed up. Looking back, wish we could have found a way to opt out but sadly is a part of all our lives now for better or for worse. And I know, it has been a while! Thanks for acknowledging that, I went down a rabbit hole (or a worm hole), miss talking with you and so on.

      Like

  9. This is a keeper – level-setter when I get annoyed with others’ preoccupation with their phones. Not sure being glued to a computer is any better though it doesn’t pose a physical risk while walking ( just the risk of legs forgetting how to walk!)
    Gotta smile – I left laptop at home – responding now on iPhone from campsite when I “should” be out walking …

    Liked by 1 person

  10. nice piece…glad to see you’re writing!
    best,

    gregg

    gregg s johnson
    cell: 206.399.3066
    email: gregg@greggsjohnson.com

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Several years ago a friend sent out an email (oh, what times were those–I think I’d only just gotten my first flip phone after resisting even that) with a list of “getting to know you” sort of questions. Sometimes old friends can surprise each other with some previously unknown detail; sometimes we simply confirm what we already knew. The last question was, “What do you think when you see a newborn?” I had mixed feelings about the internet even then but I was generally optimistic. I said I’d seen technology advance so much so fast just in my lifetime that I wondered what a newborn would experience. I said I even felt some envy.
    My friend replied, “That’s exactly what I thought you’d say.”
    It’s harder to be optimistic now, but my mind seized on that “fantasy mirror”. Yes, it may carry a witch’s curse, and the downsides are very real and very dangerous, but my friend has a daughter who’s just turned eighteen, and while she’s sometimes glued to her phone she also still has a life away from it. She makes fantasy costumes–some inspired by things she’s read, others from her imagination, and not just for herself but for her friends. Even over the past two years she’s found ways to stay engaged with the real–including using her skills to sew masks. I still worry, and you’ve highlighted the importance of not passively accepting phones as essential. They seem to be, at best, a mixed curse, but, while still trying to be vigilant, I do see reasons for hope, and I hope you do too.
    Especially since that friend’s daughter is talking about getting a tattoo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah it ends with a tattoo! Why does it always end with a tattoo?! Thank you for this Chris, I know I was likely over-reacting but it’s some pent-up angst I’ve had observing this in my kids literally most of their lives now. And it’s just a reality of modern living that people need to find some balance and it ain’t easy. I can’t bring myself to write personal emails anymore, I’ll tell you that! Some day that behavior will even be missed or we’ll get nostalgic about that right? Glad your mind seized on the mirror, thanks for the cool comment as always. And happy St. Patrick’s Day, why not?!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Also…really enjoyed your leprechaun piece just now. The bit about centaur farts, the “leprechaulonies,” the whole dry tone of it. Bang on! Ross Murray, the Canadian humorist/ satirist would really dig that. Nicely done…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You beautifully articulate all the blessed complications. As for the future, talking to kids at school, they see a bleak time heading their way. No wonder they hide in Reels and TikTok.

    Liked by 1 person

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