March 27, 2012

No Screens: Why People who are Constantly on their Phones are Missing Out on the World

Over the weekend, Mr. BBM, his dad, step-mom and I went to see “The Hunger Games.” It was premiere weekend, so I should have known better. The first premier weekend movie I went to, back in the day, was “Evita.” Mr. BBM and I were dating at the time and we were fashionably late. We ended up having to sit in the front row of a crowded theater. That wasn’t the worst part. By far, the two old ladies who were sitting behind us took that honor. They felt it necessary to question everything about the film, as in “Why are they singing everything?” Seriously? Did they not know the premise of the movie and that it was a musical? They also talked with their mouths full. I know this because during one of their little outbursts about why Madonna was singing constantly, one of the women choked on popcorn very loudly. The noise wasn’t the problem though. The problem was that when she finally cleared the wet offending piece of popcorn from her throat, it ended up being hacked into my hair. It was a night to remember for sure.

Another premiere weekend movie I attended was one of those awful new Star Wars movies (not that the classics are any better). I was pregnant with Sassy at the time and during the movie, that Amoebagladden character (whatever her name was), was pregnant with twins. After the movie was over, I stood up anxiously waiting my turn to run to the bathroom. A bunch of teenagers were staring at my stomach like I was an alien. “Ask her,” the one whispered to the other. “Ask her if she’s having twins.” Clearly, their mothers had not taught them that you NEVER ask a pregnant woman if she’s having twins. I glared at them with a look of death that would have scared Darth himself and they promptly turned away. I was hugely pregnant and had just sat through a Star Wars movie. Don’t push me.

We arrived at the theater this weekend at a decent enough time that we didn’t need to sit in the front row; but it was certainly crowded. Although the ages were varied, there were many teenagers in the theater. I guess they were all too busy updating Facebook to hear or see the “please turn your cell phones off” message that was played loud and clear; because it wasn’t long before there was a strange glow coming from the floor in front of Mr. BBM. The kid in front of him had dropped his cell phone on the floor and it was sending up a blinding glow. Mr. BBM bent over, committed the cardinal sin of picking something off the theater floor and handed it to the kid. He should have thrown it across the theater. Maybe it would have sent a message.

After the movie started, we had two sets of  teenager narrators sitting behind us. Every sentence started with “In the book. . . ” when they weren’t starting with, “This is the part where. . . (fill in what was about to, but had not yet happened).” It continued to happen and finally I sat forward and turned my head sharply to the loudest set of narrators. I gave them a look. They got quiet for a little while. It didn’t last long. Down the aisle, several teenagers sat there with their phones in their laps, updating Facebook play for play during the movie perhaps? The glare of the phones throughout the theater was ridiculous. Mr. BBM actually had to lean in my direction to avoid the glare of someone’s phone several rows in front of us. It was unbelievable. Could they not check out for a two hour movie?

About half way through the movie, both Mr. BBM and I both had to shoot dirty looks at the second set of narrators behind us to the left. There was constant talking in the theater, near constant lights popping on from phones. I was trying to get absorbed into the movie; but it was difficult because I kept vowing my kid would not be one of those kids someday.

I know how it can happen. Mr. BBM and I both have smart phones. Sometimes we find ourselves scrolling through Facebook instead of interacting with each other. Does it really matter what some guy we graduated college with 16 years ago is having for dinner? Is that more important than the here and now in this house? No.

Last week, I was irritated when Swim Girl was mentally checking out all the time and ignoring me when I told her to get started on her homework. She saved up for and bought herself an iPod Touch a few months ago. She can get a little obsessed with it. She doesn’t have a cell phone yet; and she’s not getting one for that very reason. Kids can get themselves into big trouble with phones and iPods.

The other day, I watched a school girl walk down the street staring at her phone as she walked. If something had been in her way, she would have fallen over it. We live in the area where a woman texted herself, head first, right into the mall fountain. In my neighborhood, I was run off the road with three kids in the car by a teenager who was texting while driving. I look at all these people who constantly have their faces in their phones and I think about how sad it is, that they’re choosing to communicate and live life virtually. Are they ever in the moment?

One of my sister’s ex-boyfriends used to sit at our house on holidays with his phone in his face the entire time. He had no communication skills what-so-ever and it was just plain rude.

When you are in someone else’s company, it is rude to be consulting your phone to see what other people are doing. Kids need to know this; teenagers need to realize that they can watch a movie for two hours without the internet crumbling down around them if they are not participating in it for a short time.

For this reason, we are making a new rule in this house. It’s called the “No Screens” rule. When we are all at home in the evening hours, the phone and iPods are being put away. We are going to interact as a family. We’re not going to Skype, comment on the status of someone we don’t even know, or kill a little green pig. We’re going to go family old school, where we sit around the dinner table and look at each other, and discuss our day. At first, it  might be hard to feel so disconnected; but I think that we’re going to find that it is freeing. And perhaps, others should do the same, get out there and actually live in the world we live in, rather than experiencing it through what everyone else is doing.

I am determined to have children who use their phones and iPods responsibly and appropriately. I am hell bent on having kids who know how to interact with people in the room with them. And if it means that the phones and iPods go away permanently, so be it.

Most of you know the premise of the movie, The Hunger Games.” As we were coming home on Saturday night, I told Mr. BBM that if the doors had been shut and we were told that only one of us was making it out alive, the odds would have been strongly in my favor, because 90% of the theater would have been too busy on their phones to even know what was happening.

Something needs to change, and we’re starting in this house.

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