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Camille Granito Mancuso: Chatterbox--Hang up, tune in


We’ve talked before in Chatterbox about cell phones and their disruption to what used to be our lives.

We’ve talked about two women out to lunch and one on her phone for 20 minutes while her friend basically dined alone. We’ve talked about a family out to breakfast where every single member of the group was on a device of some sort, and a group of teenagers in a fast food joint together, but each on a phone. Why bother? Go to lunch with the people you’re on the phone with.

We also talked about: people texting and driving; “pedtextrians” – the people who text and walk, getting struck by cars as they cross streets; the new phenomenon of pedtextrians getting struck by building doors as people exit onto the sidewalks; the negative affect texting has on communications due to the inability to communicate tone and inflection; and the loss of the use of penmanship, good grammar, and punctuation and social skills.

Now, we see something many of us will find not only unbelievable but more distasteful, that affects innocent kids. Really? Just by being on our phones? And what can be worse than crashing our car or being struck by one? Well, how about a generation of children without basic life skills? An entire generation of newborns is at risk because of our phones … really.

Bonding with our children should be our pleasure, but it’s also critical and, in and of itself, far more than enough reason to toss the phone out a train window. Parents, of course, do maintain a relationship with their children strictly due to what must be provided in their care. During feeding, nursing, diaper changing, and, hopefully, some quality time of reading or play, there is great interaction.

Still, experts are finding there is more and more opportunity for basic and very necessary traditional learning through simple interaction which is being lost in the name of cell phones. We are seeing more and more situations where a parent chooses the phone and what it can provide them, over concentrated interaction with their infants and children. With this, more is at stake than just bonding, and many of us know it. Still, the phenomenon persists.

I saw a very disturbing photo just this past week. A young woman in what seemed to be an airport had placed her baby on a blanket on the floor. The infant remained on her back, staring into space while the woman read her phone. Any opportunity missed due to a gadget is an opportunity nature hasn’t adjusted for yet. Humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years and “face time” used to mean actual faces.

Experts explain that what any interaction, face to face, does for infants in their very earliest months, trains them to read faces. This seemingly modest ability is an absolute survival skill. Research reveals baby girls seem to perfect this skill better and younger than baby boys, but all infants depend on “face time” and gain command of gauging people’s responses and, more critically, intentions, from it.

To be able to assess people’s emotions or intentions by their breath, eyes and facial expressions, even those that are unintentional or feigned, is a survival skill imperative to all individuals. We perfect it as we age and our exposure to it is sustained, but we learn it in infancy by spending priceless, cumulative, hours “playing” with the adults in our life.

Watching this woman ignore this helpless infant on the airport floor was painful – a torch in the darkness as to where we’re going; teens suffer impoverished social skill development and adults substitute social interaction and, possibly, parental responsibility, for tech-time.

Life has changed because we’re always staring at someone we aren’t actually with, on a 2-by-3-inch screen. No wonder everyone is finding love on match sites. People don’t casually interact anymore. We’re missing opportunities with people at arm’s length, over lunch counters, and meeting strangers on a train. We’re missing friends and loved ones right across the table. Now, how long before Peek-a-Boo goes bye-bye?

Today I saw an amazing photo from a baseball game. A father was captured blocking his son’s head from a runaway baseball bat.

Occasionally, ball players do lose their grip and send one flying into the stands. This guy reacted in time to prevent serious injury to his son. The photo showed no physical response whatsoever from his son. He was on the phone. Why go to the game?

Hang up and tune in.