Should Family Time Stream?

Should families live-stream their holiday celebrations to those off-site?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My Mom asked if I would stream video from our Thanksgiving dinner. Sh wants to see the kids in real-time and say hello, find out what I am making for dessert, and view the place-settings. I put out her Mom’s (my grandmother’s) special china plates and serving pieces just on Thanksgiving. These are all good reasons. Yet I am still reluctant to turn on the video during our holiday meal. Irma, Boston

A multi-generational family gathered around an oval shaped dining table that is set with formal place settings, candles, and wine glasses.
Photo Credit: Lillian Penner, author, “Grandparenting with a Purpose”

Dear Irma: First of all, what would the turkey say! There is no question that the holidays strain our digital etiquette, and that seems to begin here in November.

The good news is that when you run video, say on the phone or Ipad, you might have less contentious dialogue and more “instagram” perfect moments. We act differently when we know we are on camera. Here I am citing a review paper by Harvard Professor Ethan Bernstein. In work settings, when employees know that they are on videotape, there is less petty theft and more emphasis on customer sales and service. This is called technology based monitoring.

Do families behave differently when they are being filmed? Well, maybe on reality TV and when it comes to talking politics and sharing those skeleton-in-the-closet family secrets!

But seriously, I share your concerns about running the camera during your holiday. You didn’t say why your Mom can not come to Thanksgiving…is she very ill, serving overseas, or does she want to avoid holiday travel? The reason might matter (to some….)

That said, I worry for the future that ‘video holidays’ may become a new norm. Why spend money on three-day travel trips, burn excess fuel, and experience the inconveniences of holiday crowds if we can participate vicariously? Something will be gained, and a lot will be lost.

Pedestrian Safety & Phone

It’s crazy out there…phones, cars, and pedestrians. Heads up and more.

Crossing the street with phones is not safe. This is a 2016 campaign reported in the (Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review
Pedestrians and Phones Seeking Danger!
photo credit: Andrew Russell, Tribune-Review

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I read that this column was originally about distracted driving. Well, how about distracted pedestrians? I live in the city and when I take the car out there are scooters and bikes to avoid, but the most dangerous seem to be the pedestrians who jaywalk and never look up from their phones. These people don’t pay any attention to the road! Conner,San Francisco

Dear Connor: You are in the right, except that you are in the car and you must keep safe at all cost. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are increasing. A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found more pedestrians and cyclists were killed last year than in any year since 1990; approximately 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day.

It’s grim. Your only choice as an urban driver is to be uber-cautious and reduce your speed. In cities, I think humans now need to drive as if they were an autonomous car. They should have super-sensors, be programmed to give way to pedestrians (right or wrong), and travel at or below the posted speed limit. Fewer right-on-red turns would help too.

Calling Situational Awareness

When pedestrians use phones they have reduced situational awareness and distracted attention. A 2008 safety study gave 30 pedestrians mobile phones to talk on and another 30 pedestrians mobile phones to hold while walking on a prescribed route. The research team planted five obtrusive objects along the route. Pedestrians conversing on the mobile phones recalled fewer of the objects than did those holding a phone but not conversing. There’s a lot more research since then on reduced situational awareness from phones. The findings apply to both pedestrians and drivers. Imagine when both type of journey makers never register seeing one another!

Boot Camp for Peds

Here’s an expression that recruits to military boot camp learn: WALK TALL, WALK PROUD, HEAD UP, EYES FORWARD. For pedestrians, it’s a 21st century update to the old adage ‘look-left, look-right’ before crossing.


Safe Walk to School or Phone?

Mom worries about using
phones and earbuds when kids walk to school.

This is a logo for safe routes to school in Marin County, Ca.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: A Mom question- do you think it’s safe for an 11 year old that walks to school to have a phone? There are several big streets to cross, and I worry that he will be looking at his phone instead of the road. My son says everyone has a phone and most of the kids do walk to school in our neighborhood. D.D., Tiburon

Dear D.D.: A couple of thoughts on the question you pose. First, congratulations on living in a neighborhood where children can walk to school. Many schools, including the one in your town, have Safe Routes to School programs and you can get more involved with their training. Two communities I know of, Honolulu, Hi. and Montclair, Ca. have banned pedestrians from using phones and earbuds when crossing intersections, but it is not clear that there is much enforcement.

That said, don’t over-worry. Talk over the safety issues with your son and make a ‘compact’ with him to follow the advice from Safe Routes to School. Personally, I would threaten to take the phone away if you find he uses it while crossing streets. Explain that he needs to focus for the full time.

There is a lot of confusion around phones and pedestrian safety. On the one hand, the percent of traffic deaths involving pedestrians has soared from 12% to 16% between 2008 and 2018. During the same time period phone ownership surged, and car safety improved. However, this could be a spurious correlation. Seventy five percent of the pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. It is also known that 32% or more of the ped fatalities are alcohol related. As in distracted driving, it’s hard to get the ‘real’ rate when phones (or marijuana/drugs) are involved.

You are right to question whether kids, phones, and walking mix well. One obvious point is to make safety and phones an everyday lesson, and make it a new discussion point with the November 3 switch to Daylight Savings Time.