Some days I really can’t work out what makes people tick. This morning at the local market I ran into a neighbor whose daughter recently died of a brain tumor. She had a malignant glioma and lived about eighteen months after the surgery to remove it. It was most likely caused by her cell phone; the neighbor says that the doctors asked her a lot of questions about how much she used it, and which side of her head she held it on.
This man and his wife now spend a lot of time looking after their grandchildren. Given their daughter’s history, you might think they’d forbid the children to use wireless technology; they know it isn’t safe. They don’t, though. Even though the children are still very young–the eldest is only ten–they’ve all got smartphones, and they spend a lot of their time playing with them, and they sleep with the phones next to their beds. And he spends a lot of his time on the Internet, with the Wi-Fi on.
“Why don’t you take the phones away from the kids?” I asked. He just shrugged. He doesn’t want to face the tantrums; amusing kids is a burden. Deprived of their phones, what would the kids do with themselves? I thought to myself how different his attitude is from my parents’, who thought TV was bad for children and refused to have one in the house. My husband’s parents were the same: no TV, even though everyone else had one. If you were bored you read a book, or drew something, or played a game, or took the dog for a walk. Our parents’ stance wasn’t negotiable; they were the adults, and they made the rules.
Today’s parents seem unable to contemplate the horror of depriving children of their smartphones, even though there have been plenty of articles in the news saying that these gadgets are deliberately made to be addictive, that they impair concentration and learning, that the people who manufacture these things won’t let their own children use this technology. Why is this? The answer, it seems to me, is that the adults themselves are so addicted. Unable to put down their own devices, they have no moral authority to force the children to stop using theirs.
Time and again people tell me, “They’ve taught us to use these things; what else can we do?” It’s a stupid excuse for doing something you know is bad for you, but you can’t reason with an addict. The combination of persuasive design and fabricated need turns otherwise reasonable people into morons who while away their days texting and swiping screens, more involved in an unreal online world than in the actual physical world around them. This can translate into very dangerous behavior. The other day we almost had a head-on crash with a woman who was using her smartphone while driving. She wasn’t looking at the road; she was holding her smartphone up in front of her face, so she couldn’t see the road. She nearly killed all of us. Is that stupid or what?
My neighbor’s stupidity really bothers me, because it involves children. His daughter died of a brain tumor. She inherited the gene for that from him or his wife, and she almost certainly passed it on to at least one of her three children. Giving those children smartphones is asking for trouble. For that matter, giving any child a smartphone is a dumb thing to do. Not only is it dangerous for their health, it stunts their development at a time when they should be learning about the world around them.
I read a few days ago that the average American child can recognize a thousand corporate logos, but can identify very few native animal or plant species. That points to something very wrong. As a child, I spent every free minute outdoors, and I wanted to know the names of every plant and every creature I saw. One of my most enduring memories is watching a moonflower unfold in the light of the rising full moon. It unfurled itself within minutes, releasing a sweet perfume into the summer air which attracted a velvet green luna moth, surely one of the most beautiful species of moth on the planet. In the snapshot of my memory that pale green moth hovers eternally over the giant white flower in the moonlight.
Every child should have memories like that, but they will never have them if they spend the precious years of childhood staring at a glowing screen. Remembering corporate logos will teach them nothing of value about the world; they will grow up ignorant and stupid. It’s all very well for the makers of smartphones to aim at placing one in the hands of every person on earth; they want to do that, because that’s how they get rich. And with their money they will insulate themselves from the masses of stupid people who are addicted to their smartphones, and they will insulate their children from these devices. Their children will read books and spend time outdoors. They will know the names of birds and animals and plants.
I hope the day comes–very soon–when any parent or grandparent who allows a child to use a smartphone is met with stares of disapproval from everyone around them. Knowing which buttons to push is not a sign of intelligence. So-called smartphones are dumbing the world down, while a very few people get rich.
The slogan ” ‘Smart’ Phone: You Get Stupid, They Get Rich” is available on a number of products, including the bumper sticker below. Check out the “Protest against smartphones” collection at the Anti-Wireless Shop on Zazzle. Go to the Home Page of this site for links from wherever you are.