Is Move To Suburb Good for Kids?

An urban Grandma asks when kids move out do they use the Internet less?

This is a book cover from 1997 titled "Better Place to Live" by Philip Langdon. How should suburbia be reimagined?
Suburbia is Good? Philip Langdon, 1997

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is it good for kids to move to the suburbs? My son and his family plan to move out of the city to a home about 20 miles away. He said his three children are spending too much time on the Internet and also when they move they will each have their own bedroom. I think where they live today is just fine even though they share rooms.  Do you think this move will really help the children when it comes to using the Internet less? As I see it, there are so many fun things to do here in my neighborhood.  Judy, Brookline

Dear Judy: Your son is not alone- there is a narrative that families are doing an exodus from big metro centers these days. Working from home in tight quarters is a chief reason to move out with the closure of favorite restaurants and hangouts. But to answer the question you pose, what are the differences of  urban vs. suburban? The picture at the top is from a 1997 book that argued that the suburbs were stressful, unhealthy places to live. Now the pendulum swings back.

This chart, which comes from an extensive U.S.  time-use study in 2019, shows little difference in what people do in suburbs vs. cities, even with an outdoor activity like playing sports. You asked about media, and that’s not exactly captured, although the categories of watching sports and leisure/relaxing are closely related.

Behind Closed Doors:

In a bigger home with separate bedroom parents will have less ability to see and watch what their kids are doing on the Internet, particularly if the kids used to browse from a shared computer or tablet. Today, bedrooms often do double duty as arcade and game rooms.  But, it’s a balance for families- if Mom or Dad telework, they need to be able to shut the door too.

In the suburbs your son and his family will be spending more time driving, either to see you in Brookline, or for work and school. Kids playing with phones in cars, even as a passenger, is not a good habit. The car is an essential place for conversation, for looking out the window, and managing in-between time. I sometimes wonder if parents who talk a lot on their own phones as they drive, and/or let little kids use their phones in the car imbue a habit that lasts for a lifetime…. when these kids grow up, they become drivers on phones, and drive unsafe.

Inside Closed Cars:

And, speaking of driving, when people move to suburbs with children, kids are generally less independent, unless there are safe sidewalks and bicycles to travel on. Otherwise, these children need to rely on their parents or caregivers to drive them almost everywhere. When children can’t socialize in person or go places,  they might spend more time on their computers or phones, either playing video games or going on social media.

Ultimately, it will be up to your son and his family to set new rules, and to manage how much time the children spend on the Internet. I hope that the move works out well for the family and you will be there helping them manage the changes.

Uber for Flip-phone?

Are you able to get Uber or Lyft if you only have a flip phone?

This is an picture of a flip-phone with a rotary dial. It is not common, but here is the link:
From Hackaday, 2014. This phone does exist!

My older sister lives alone out of state and does not drive. She uses taxis about once a week but they are very expensive and somewhat unreliable. I have suggested she try using Uber which is available where she lives. I have offered to pay for her Uber account which Uber tells me is possible, My sister unfortunately can’t figure out how to put Uber on her flip phone Do you have any tutorial on how to do this? Fran, Burlington

Dear Fran:   It will be nice once the lockdown ends to get back to teaching our rideshare classes and we will be working on a video. This column began two years ago as a way to augment our classes and  expand upon the role of phones in transportation.

As you mention, many communities are now experiencing shortfalls in taxi service. That is leaving those who depend on them for trips, like your sister, high and dry. Not only are they expensive, they are also unreliable. Many taxi companies have ceased the call-in dispatch service, even though there are drivers with cars who wish to pick up passengers.

GPS to the Rescue

That’s where Uber and Lyft, the rideshare companies, become a fine option. But, summoning them does require a phone that can receive and send GPS (global positioning system) data. The “dispatch” takes place electronically instead of through a call-in center.

Since your sister is using a flip phone, it does not have GPS capability built in. She will not be able to call Uber or Lyft on her own, since the Uber or Lyft driver needs  geo-coordinates to know a physical address for pick-up. However, you could be a ride hero and place the call for her.

Location, Location

To do so, you need to know exactly (and I mean exactly) where she is locationally when she wants to be picked up…..say 123 Main Street, Janesville. The rideshare app will send your phone a text message indicating that a pickup is occurring, distant from your own location. You will receive a text messages once the trip is confirmed, and when the rideshare vehicle picks up your sister you can use its “breadcrumb” trail to track her trip in real time. That’s a service taxis can’t provide.

Lots of people book rideshare trips on behalf of family members. And, there are more formal entities like Lyft Concierge, Uber Assist, and GoGoGrandparent that do this too.  That said, it’s often a win-win when seniors get their own smartphones and learn how to use them- not just for rideshare but to stay more active and connected. Once they see the benefits and potential of the smartphone, many of them become eager learners. 

Hands-Free Enforcement?

Delivery driver says the phone is a lifeline …hands-free, seriously?

A picture of traffic where tag lines suggest people in the cars are talking on the phone, texting, and engaging in other distracting behaviors.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I saw your last post about using hands-free phones. For the last few years I have been doing food delivery and having a phone in the car is a necessity.  I keep it on my lap or next to me. This new law is going to cause me a lot of hardship and slow me down. They can’t enforce it anyway so what’s the big deal? R.D., Boston

Dear R.D.,

Food delivery must be taxing, and hopefully you will not be distracted by either your Big Gulp or  your smartphone!  I honestly think that our growing demand for home delivery plus the desire to be continuously connected shortens the time until autonomous vehicles. 

To Enforce or Not…

But, to answer your question, an officer could pull you over if they saw you on the phone, say they looked down from an overpass, or  pulled along-side you at a stop. For background, see the Florida image. But I agree: officers are going to be cautious about enforcement. The background is Whren v. United States (1996). The lesson: don’t drive erratically and get pulled over.

I used to think phones were not necessary in cars but I cede that opinion. Most of us have lost our way-finding skills, and traffic apps add value. They help us select the best route, anticipate bottlenecks and slowdowns, and provide voice-overs to navigate your crazy round-abouts in Boston.

Knoweth thy phone commands…

Drivers with newer cars and trucks will stream their phone through the car’s audio system. But here are some additional tips for those with older cars and phones.

Get acquainted with the voice commands on your phone. You may be able to place a call, or answer one, by using voice commands like Siri or Alexa.  It is a misnomer to think that these calls are distraction free, but they will, at least, help keep your eyes on the road.

Second, make sure the screen-lock is set functionally. Then you won’t have to touch the phone to wake-up it up, or worse, key in the password. The screen-lock settings are generally found under ‘general/display/auto-lock.’

And, Knoweth Not!

Finally, newer phone operating systems have a feature that detect motion in your vehicle and are supposed to automatically divert an incoming call to voicemail.  On the Iphone this feature is buried under accessibility. Full disclaimer: Dear Smartphone has not been able to set up this feature successfully and struggles to turn it off for good.