Beware the Rabbit Hole – Part 2
My parents love reading The Beast and are big fans of Pearl. They don’t live in Sydney, so I post them a copy via snail mail each month. The magazine keeps them in the loop with what’s happening in my local ‘hood and they look forward to receiving it. Dad will often send me a selfie of him on the couch with a cup of tea and the trusty mag in hand. But this month his text was a little different.
“Jem, I enjoyed your last article, but maybe you should have included possible solutions for this insidious problem. Why not write a ‘part two’?”
If you missed last month’s article, it revolved around the themes portrayed in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and how we, as consumers of social media, are being manipulated by the tech giants to keep us addicted to our devices, potentially leading to unhealthy outcomes.
Offering solutions to this problem is challenging. The main concern is that all too often we don’t even realise we are on our device in the first place. Have you ever had a face-to-face conversation with someone who is more focused on their phone instead? It’s rude and infuriating, but the problem is their lack of awareness that they’re even on the device.
Prior to discussing potential solutions, we need to accept that the smartphone isn’t going away. It’s here to stay, and the technology is only going to get more streamlined, sophisticated and easier to access. With this in mind, there’s a need to consider striking a balance between solutions and acceptance. Anyone born after 1995 would have no concept of a world without the internet, so denying access altogether is not the answer.
iGen author Jean Twenge believes this balance between solutions and acceptance is the key. She explains that today’s kids are less rebellious, less happy, and are growing up more slowly and less prepared for adulthood. Why? It’s the amount of screen time spent alone that poses the biggest threat, leading people to believe their online lives are more important than their real ones. It’s this isolation that is the main concern for both kids and adults alike as it inhibits genuine human interaction and leads to mental fragility.
Investigating potential solutions, an obvious one is to put the bloody phone down – easier said than done! Like any addiction, there are strong forces at play here and the fear of missing out can cut deep – I have literally seen kids (and adults) flip out if they can’t get on the internet. By dedicating time to putting your phone away it allows you to open up to other things that are more ‘real’, like reading a book, talking to someone face-to-face, patting a dog, smelling the roses or anything that puts you in a more mindful state. A good trick I have used when entertaining at home is to have everyone put their phone into a bucket, which they can collect upon departure. It may sound dramatic, but they get used to it and often thank me.
Another solution is delaying your child from getting a phone for as long as possible. If your child says, “Everyone else has one,” or if you as a parent think, “They’re going to get one eventually so why not just get one now?,” you are ignoring the collision between early adolescent development and social media. Early high school years are fraught with peer pressure and bullying – throw a smartphone into the mix and you’ve created a minefield. If you’re worried about safety, get an old-school ‘dumb’ phone that just texts and calls instead. Turn your phone off at night, and if you need an alarm, get a clock radio. And monitor your use – somewhat ironically, there is an app that monitors your screen time. Oh, and my favourite: get a landline.
If you feel like your phone has become a clutch and you fear that you can’t do without it, professional help is available.