Dear Ms. Smartphone: Whenever I’m out in public everybody around me is staring at their phones. This happens out in nature, in class, and anywhere people have the opportunity to open an app. When I don’t look at my phone and just think about things I feel like I’m the odd one out. Is there a way to quell this feeling? Will people ever change or only get worse? Benjamin, Cambridge
Dear Benjamin, There is no doubt that phones have changed our social relationships; in an earlier post I noted that we are closer to those who are further away, and farther from those close by. The other factor is that smartphones are the modern swiss-army knife. We use them to snap pictures, light up the dark, record voice memos, and count our footsteps.
If your kid loses phones over and over…do they need to have one?
Dear Ms. Smartphone: My son, age twelve, just came home from day camp and when we checked his backpack, his phone was missing. This is the third time he has lost a phone this year. I like him to have a phone so that we can stay in touch, but this is getting ridiculous. What do you think I should do? Phoebe, Fairfax
Dear Phoebe: There are a couple of ways to approach this. You could text him every hour to remind him to guard his phone and turn on its GPS to track the location. But seriously, first ask, is he losing other things too, say hoodies and lunchboxes? If so, consider mindfulness training. Or, maybe, as this mom suggests, a smartphone is just too dear, and too much of a responsibility for many kids.
It’s expensive to keep replacing smartphones, so there are at least two alternatives: get your son a prepaid phone that comes with limited minutes, or have him wear a watch that just receives messages and texts.
But, before you consider either option, step back and consider why a twelve year old needs to carry a phone at all times. Did you know that kids are safer now in public than they have ever been? The rate of kidnappings, abductions, and other horrible things is infinitesimally small. As a parent, you should know where your twelve year old is at all times. Since it’s summer, and he’s at day camp, consider forgoing the phone, at least until school begins. That short abstinence might be a sufficient lesson to be less forgetful!
During the church sermon someone was checking their email…
Dear Ms. Smartphone: This Sunday at church I had a real surprise. During the sermon the gentleman in the pew ahead of me pulled out his phone and began scrolling through his email and calendar. I was too surprised to tap him on the shoulder and ask him to stop that. Would you have done that? Mina, San Rafael
Dear Mina, Your question gets right to the heart of digital etiquette. The fact that someone else pulled out their phone in a public space (in this case a sacred space) both disturbed and distracted you.
The gentleman probably did not consider that using his phone might be an interference and annoyance to people around him. It clearly distracted you from why you came. So, yes, tap him on the shoulder, smile, and make a gesture to suggest that he put the phone away.