By Gulrukh Tausif
Smartphone technology has revolutionized the way we live our lives today. It has enabled us to stay connected with the world 24/7, send and receive messages, texts and emails from around the globe in matter of seconds, watch videos, read books, browse online stores, order food and get information and whatnot.
But it should not come as any surprise that while we are able to stay connected to the world at all times, smartphones are making us ignore those sitting right in front of us in our own homes and living rooms. Attend any wedding, funeral or family function and you will find half the guests glued to their phones checking latest updates than show any interest in the people around them or the events taking place in the vicinity.
This trend has now a name “phone snubbing” or “phubbing” for short, which means ignoring someone in a social setting by looking at your phone and not paying any attention to those around you. Health experts agree that being constantly glued to the electronic gadgets makes a person inattentive towards his surroundings and makes him unsocial.
In hospital waiting rooms, airports, restaurants, and even parks most people are totally oblivious to anything or anyone around them. They prefer to play games or spend their time checking their smartphones instead of making polite conversation or make any effort to get to know each other. We seem to have mastered the art of chatting, texting, Facebooking, Whatsapping, Instagraming and the use of emojis but it is also a fact that we are losing the ability to listen or hold a conversation with our loved ones.
Parents are too involved with social media or work related emails and messages and phub their children. As I look at some of the young parents around me, I am amazed that they do not know how to join their children in their fun activities like catching the ball, fill in a colouring book or building a tower with blocks or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Some parents do not even want to. Instead of sitting down with the children, they prefer to hand a gadget to them so that they can pursue their own online activities in peace.
Even conversations seem to have more rushed. People keep glancing at their phones during meals or while talking to each other. They are impatient for the meeting to finish as the urge to check their emails or Whatsapp is very strong. Every beep erodes their attention span and hence they are curt, inattentive and short with each other. Children who are addicted to smartphones are observed to be emotionally detached from the parents, siblings and grandparents.
Increased digital intoxication is playing havoc on our relationships and this thing will only get worse as our children grow older. During mealtimes, we used to tell stories to our children to keep them interested in their food and the story wouldn’t finish till the plate was clean. But now children have their meals with iPads while mums and dads are busy on their smartphones and laptops.
Similarly while travelling to Murree during summer holidays, I remember we used to look at the changing landscape, the roadside restaurants, the small villages and towns, landmarks, mosques, rivers and bridges. Now children refuse to travel unless they have iPads, tablets and smartphones with apps and movies downloaded to enable them to endure the long journey which they accomplish without looking out of the window.
Adults especially parents have to take responsibility to curb this rising phenomenon of phubbing. During mealtimes and outings, they should put away their phones to talk, laugh, play and talk to the children. Many people think that once they have taken their children to the park, zoo or a fancy restaurant, their duty is done. The children should then occupy themselves with the food, sights and rides. But we should remember that children need the parents to be present not only physically but also mentally and emotionally for happier childhood memories.
Similarly if children are phubbing the adults, their use of smartphone should be curtailed. Parents should be able to control their children’s behavior without giving them gadgets to keep them quiet. This Eid, I visited a few of my relatives whose children did not even look up from their tablets even to greet the guests or say simple things like “Eid Mubarak” or Allah Hafiz.
Technology has an undeniable place in our world today but we have to take a hard, honest look at its usage in our homes. Are we slaves to our digital addiction? Are our children suffering because of its excessive use, either by the adults or by their own hands? Are our relationships suffering? Are our mealtimes, family functions and outings devoid of close personal interaction?
Human relationships are precious and fragile. Let us not make them a victim of our phone addiction and phubbing.
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Story first published: 11th July 2017