Tag: screens

#ScreenFreeSunday

I’ve seen plenty of weak signals over the past few months/years about people taking time to unplug for a day at the weekend. Some people do it on Saturdays, others on Sundays. I think I’d prefer Saturdays but, realistically, it’s the day I get my newsletter written (which then goes out Sunday morning UK time).

So this week I tried a ‘screen-free Sunday’. Well, kind of. The fact that I’m typing this via my laptop demonstrates my lack of commitment to the letter of the self-imposed law. But the spirit of it was there at least. From around 10pm last night until 7.30pm tonight I didn’t use screens. So no playing FIFA15 with my son; no helping my daughter with the CBeebies app; no checking my Twitter timeline; and I couldn’t “just look up” for my wife the gym opening hours.

Things I’ve done over the past 24 hours I haven’t done for a while:

  • Written in my dead-tree diary with a pen
  • Studied an Ordnance Survey Map closely
  • Visited an historic monument with the family on the spur of the moment

It’s crazy to think how entwined interactive screens are with our everyday lives. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing. It’s just a fact. So I’m going to try and take 24 hours off screens every week. As with this weekend, that will probably mean turning my laptop(s) and mobile phone off at some point during Saturday evening and not turning them on again until Sunday evening.

Do you go screen-free at certain times? Have you found it helpful? How?

Image CC BY-NC Ashley Brown

Bad Parenting (or, On The Meditative Nature of Screens)

TL;DR: Screens are enticing, but as parents we should be modelling better behaviours in front of our children than the ‘stare and scroll’.


Last year I wrote a post in response to one by Patrick Rhone entitled Reading books in front of kids is not enough. In the concluding paragraph I wrote:

Sharing is caring. Enthusiasm and curiosity is infectious. Just seeing Daddy read a newspaper or a book means absolutely nothing in and of itself. We need to model the behaviours we want to see. I’m all for encouraging children to read – let’s just not kid ourselves that letting them see us read physical books is enough.

I’m increasingly concerned about the behaviour of parents while using technology (specifically mobile devices) in front of their young children. And before I start to throw stones around this glasshouse, let me say that this is something I struggle with as a parent too.

The reason for not saying anything before now is because I thought it would be a fad: people get new, shiny smartphones and can’t keep their hands off them. But I see it turning into something a bit more worrying and sinister. As someone who works for a technology company that’s started work on creating mobile devices I don’t take this at all lightly.

Today, for example, I went out for breakfast. On a table near me a young couple sat down with their son, who must have been about 18 months old. Without saying anything to him, they pulled out their smartphones and started the ‘stare and scroll’ I’ve seen so often amongst parents recently. Unlike his mother and father, the child was provided with no form of entertainment while they were waiting for breakfast to arrive. Predictably, after five minutes he got down from his chair and started making noise to get the attention he craved. To pacify him, his mother handed over her phone and he started the now-familiar ‘toddler swipe’ through photos.

Parenting is hard. We all know that. But this kind of thing is happening all over the developed world. Catherine Steiner-Adair is a clinical and consulting psychologist who interviewed 1,000 children about the role of screens in their lives. The quotations below by her a taken from a New York Times article:

“Children of all ages — 2, 15, 18, 22 — used the same phrases to talk about how hard it is for them to get their parents’ attention when they need it: sad, angry, mad, frustrated,” she said. They were complaining that their parents were focused on screens, she continued, “like a child’s chorus of all ages, talking about this new sibling rivalry, only it’s not a new member of the family — it’s a new screen, it’s a device.”

Amongst the five web literacies Howard Rheingold identifies is attention literacy. To me, that not only applies to the attention you pay on the web, but also decisions you make about the relative value of the things around you. While it’s absolutely OK to check your social stream in front of children, in their eyes you doing so for a protracted amount of time makes them seem second-best.

Paying more attention to your screen than your child is also dangerous. Although there’s currently no proof of causation, it’s certainly odd that the dawn of smartphones is correlated with a rise in childhood injuries – bucking a longstanding downward trend. This certainly meshes with my experience: the number of parents I’ve seen pushing their kids on the swing in a park with one hand while scrolling through their Facebook feed with the other is staggering.

Finally, it worth saying that neglect isn’t just a physical phenomenon, it’s an emotional one too. I wonder what we’re going to reap as a society in twenty years’ time from what we’re currently collectively sowing?

As parents we can do better than this. We must do better than this.

Image CC BY-SA Paul Boxley

Reading books in front of kids is not enough.

TL;DR version: Patrick Rhone wrote a post recently about the importance of his children seeing people reading physical books. While I agree with the sentiment, it’s not enough in and of itself. They need to see us reading screens as well. Most importantly we need to have conversations with our kids about everything we’re reading.


Last month a post by Patrick Rhone was +1’d into my Google+ stream. Entitled A Time For Books it was, like most of Rhone’s posts, a thoughtful and heartfelt look at something important to him. While I have no beef with his general thinking here, I just think what he says doesn’t go far enough:

I’ve decided that I want to start being very conscious of making sure to read real books as much as possible around her [his daughter]. That she not only see them closed and on shelves but also open and on tables and desks and their places being kept over the arm of a chair. I want to ensure that we have family reading time as much as possible and while one of us is reading a book to her the other is enjoying a physical book of their own.

The idea of a ‘family reading time’ is great and should definitely be encouraged. My wife and I have, on occasion, done something similar with our son. However, what I find problematic in Rhone’s piece is his privileging physical books over things that are read on a screen:

I mean, we could be doing anything on the screen. And she knows it. She knows the Internet is sometimes on that screen. She knows that movies are sometimes on that screen. She knows that games and music are on that screen.

And, while she does know we can read books on that screen, even books for her, how is she to know the difference? How is she to pick up the physical cues that Mommy and Daddy read a lot of books? That this is what people should do. That it is something we believe passionately in. That it matters. That we believe she should read a lot of books too. Even when she is as old as we are.

Let me tell you how Rhone Junior can find out about what Daddy reads. By engaging her in conversation. Books are social objects.

I read a lot of books, but fully 75% of what I read is on some kind of screen – a Kindle, my Nexus 7, my MacBook Pro, or one of the plethora of devices we have lying around. It would be impossible for me to replace what I read on screens with physical books.

Instead of a futile attempt to turn the clock back, I suggest that parents looking to model appropriate behaviours enter into conversations with their kids about what they’re reading and thinking. I find one of the best places to do this with my son is in the car on the way to some activity like swimming or football. I’ll ask what he’s enjoyed reading and let him know what I’ve found interesting recently. Even better than that is sharing something you’re reading at the time you read it, of course. But that’s not always possible.

Tangentially related to this, I feel, is learning how to work in a distributed way. And, let’s face it, that’s almost definitely how my son’s generation will be working. In my work for Mozilla it’s imperative that I make my thinking as tangible and visible as possible – either through conversations, blog posts like this one, or physical/digital artefacts. This allows my colleagues to riff off what I’m doing and I can do likewise.

Sharing is caring. Enthusiasm and curiosity is infectious. Just seeing Daddy read a newspaper or a book means absolutely nothing in and of itself. We need to model the behaviours we want to see. I’m all for encouraging children to read – let’s just not kid ourselves that letting them see us read physical books is enough.

Image CC BY Wiertz Sébastien

A Week of Divesting: ‘Analogue Time’

Snail clock
Image modified under CC license from an original by spike55151

I’ve started doing this over the past few months anyway, but it’s time to formalise it. In fact, some have taken the idea and applied it to a whole day (Analog Sundays). I’m not going to be that inflexible and  groundbreaking, but it’s a start.

A quick scan through my Delicious links bore no fruit, but I’ve read within the last year two posts that had an impact on me. The first said that using a mobile phone before bed can affect teenagers’ sleep patterns. I did a little more digging and it would seem that using any type of screen within an hour of falling asleep can be detrimental.

At the other end of the day, I read on one of the productivity blogs I subscribe to that checking email first thing is a bad idea. Why? You immediately start the day off on someone else’s terms. That made me think, and I now have a coffee/breakfast/spend time with Ben/go for a run before I check email these days. It makes for much more laid-back mornings and allows clarity of thought.

So there we go: no checking of email until an hour after waking, and no screens in the hour before sleeping. Simple! 😀

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