While I spend too much time scrolling through Twitter, the real story is happening right in front of me

Story Highlights

  • My terrible fear is that my son will think I’m more interested in my phone than I am in him

After months of realising we were using electronic devices around our toddler too much, this week we decided to try removing them from his life entirely. Our measures aren’t particularly stringent. When we’re with him, we put our phones away and if we need to use a phone, we move to another room. Considering how simple this is, it’s revealing how difficult I’ve found it.

At some point I realised I was talking about this addiction as if it is my son’s, when obviously it’s my own. This is heartily proven when we find our son doesn’t miss them at all, whereas we feel strangely naked.

I’m not interested in broader judgment about phones and children, because they are a lifesaver in certain situations. And I’m tired of the puritanical parent-blaming that goes along with tirades against modern technology. This is about me, specifically, since my phone use is so habitual as to be robotic.

I click on Twitter less than three seconds after I last closed it

My work depends on a certain degree of being always-online, but this is also a cover. I cycle through the same two or three apps at Tetris speed, farming notifications as if my wellbeing depends on it. (To some extent, it does.) I click on Twitter less than three seconds after I last closed it, as if my brain has reset its endorphin count and needs an immediate re-injection of being appalled by angry people on the internet. This, without ever contemplating that I am, obviously, just one more example of that very species.

Left to my own devices, in every sense of that term, I’d continue the cycle forever, looking up the name of an actor who’s face I just can’t identify; the difference between frogs and toads; the exact lyrics to a song I don’t like and will never remember… I find it hard to believe there is a definition of healthy internet use that includes being dead to all external stimulus as I scroll through the Wikipedia page for tarragon. I spend too much time looking up the internet and not enough time looking up from it. At the very least, I can afford to restrict myself to indulging this impulse when my son’s not around.

All parents have had the experience of diverting their attention for five seconds to discover their child moments away from impaling themselves on some nearby object. It’s a ubiquitous part of parenting that predates phones, but the question is whether I’ve been creating more occasion for such moments to occur. And the answer is yes. Knowing that Russian tarragon prefers poor soils and grows to be over 1m tall is simply not a good enough trade-off.

Aside from such scares, the truth is I’ve been missing out on the world in front of me, even if it’s just for a minute or two at a time. I fear my son thinking I’m more fascinated in that glowing screen than I am in him. So, for the time being, Twitter will have to wait. From here on out, I’m looking up.

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