Mums On Phones
It’s Easter Monday. A public holiday. Our youngest daughter Eve wakes early.
‘Get out of bed!’ she says. ‘It’s Moana day! Remember, no devices!’
The gorgeous girl had crafted herself a raft out of bamboo fence, and a paddle from a piece of bamboo and a palm frond. She’d dressed herself in my grandma’s silk scarves. Her hair was out, and brushed – Moana-ish.
We pack a picnic on my daughter’s instruction, and head to Brunswick Heads. We discuss what to do first. A kayak? A swim?
‘But remember,’ she says, ‘no phones allowed.’
We choose the kayak. We don’t have phones so I can’t take a picture of the crystal blue water, and my daughters’ glowing faces. The phone would have got water damaged, anyway.
After kayaking, we drive over the headland to Christmas Beach. It isn’t an island, but it seems like one. We carry our picnic through the national park, and choose a rock. We eat. Then swim, in the clear water. The children make fairy houses out of bits of nature, and play the Moana game. My husband and I lay on the beach. We aren’t allowed to use devices. We wouldn’t want to anyway. Time just passes. We don’t want to break up the kids’ game, and the fun time they are having in nature, even when boredom starts to engulf me. My strategy is to go for a long run on the beach. When I return, the kids are still immersed in their imaginary game.
Finally, the day is over. We head home. Happy. Full.
The next morning, when Eve wakes, she tells me she’d like to sing me the Moana song. She’s not usually a performer, so I know this is a special offer. She stands on the carpet, and in her sweet, sweet voice, sings every word, pitch and lyric perfect. My heart expands.
‘Can you do it again, so I can record it?’ I ask.
‘Sure,’ she says. She does it again. But with me, holding the phone, the sweetness and heart-expandingness isn’t there. My other daughter jumps in the view finder and performs her version of the song. Then the two sit together playing, and replaying their recordings.
I am inexplicably sad.
‘You said no devices,’ I say. ‘And I ruined it.’
‘It’s OK, Mum,’ says Eve. ‘We can just delete the videos.’
So we did. All of them.
I’ve been making so many thousands of pictures and videos over the children’s lives, I wonder how big the room would have to be to store them all. I wonder, too, who would ever trawl through these millions of static memories. These digital impressions of things that happened. And why?
I have a box of printed photos from my mum’s childhood. There’s about 200 photos in there. And 200 photos is more than enough to get a wonderful impression of who my mum was, and what her life was like. I know what all her relatives looked like too when they were young. That box is magic.
But 200 is all you need. Even when half are blurry, out of focus, sometimes bent.
The thousands of perfectly curated and constructed images I keep are more than I need. And in many ways, they take away from the moments that actually existed.
I happened to stumble across David Gillespie being interviewed on ABC Conversations about how the iPhone rewrote the teenage brain. David made a comment that since the smartphone was introduced, teenage drug and alcohol addiction halved. You’d expect depression and anxiety linked to addictive behaviour would also halve. But those statistics have doubled since 2007.
This freaks me out. The phone plays a huge part of my life. And I don’t want it to. I don’t want my choices and my time dictated by a small, handheld device. And I see it creeping into our home and our lives more and more every year. Its hold gets stronger. I especially don’t want my children growing up convinced that life needs to be lived through a smartphone. I don’t want their mental health, or any other aspect of who they are, to be controlled by a device.
All I can think to do, is set a good example. All I can think to do, is offering an antidote. An alternative. A childhood grounded in nature, and real human contact, and dinner conversations, and eye contact.
I didn’t have any of these thoughts in my head when I wrote MUM FOR SALE. Errol, a little penguin, though, gets fed up with him mum, who is always on the phone, and puts her up for sale. When I tell kids the plot line, or show them the cover, they get it. Not the selling bit; that they’d never do – naturally! But the phone bit – they get that.
Of course, kids drive us crazy, asking repeatedly for phone time, or to use the computer or whatever device is available to them. But I think many of them, like many of us, also resent those tiny boxes that steal time, happiness and sanity. Technology gives us so much, but it also taketh away.