I'm headed to a North Carolina island next week, where I will offer my soft, pale body up to the sharks that have invaded the shallows this year. If not devoured, I plan to make a big dent in my reading list.
Usually I prepare for vacations by downloading a bunch of titles -- more than I could possibly read -- to my iPad, my word-and-everything-else consumption device of choice. But this year I am going analog, and will be toting a heavy stack of paper-and-ink books through the sand, convenience be damned. I'm done with digital books, at least until my kid is a teenager. The reason: I want her to love to read, too.
As my devices have intruded on nearly every waking activity, reading has increasingly felt like just another occasion to stare vacantly at a screen. More importantly, that’s what it looks like to my 4-year-old daughter, who, to my chagrin, I caught on the toilet this morning staring blankly at the old, broken flip-phone we gave her to play with. (I have no idea where she learned that habit.)
As a kid in 2015, my daughter is completely aware that adults use devices to do almost everything. And most of those things have nothing to do with reading books.
She sees grown-ups use their devices to snap photos, send texts, make calls and look up recipes. She sees grown-ups intently studying their devices for no discernible purpose, zoned out, mouths slightly agape, staring at the glass-and-plastic distraction machines in the palm of their hand, instead of paying attention to their children.
Sometimes, that zoned-out drooling adult not paying attention is me.
The evidence that screens are damaging our relationships with our children is indisputable. We are addicts, and we are training a generation to share our vice.
If you aren’t persuaded by the research, try asking your children, if you dare, what they think of your shiny glass and plastic toys. (A recent survey found that 32 percent of kids said they “feel unimportant” when their parents are distracted by their phones.)
Writing recently for The Huffington Post, Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist, said that parents should model healthy habits. I try to be mindful about using a device in front of my daughter -- I’ll put it down if she comes into a room, and I mostly keep it in my pocket unless I’m using it to make immediate plans. If I’m expecting an email, I’ll try to duck into another room to check.
But what if I want to model reading for my daughter? If I'm using my iPad, I’m looking at the same screen she is allowed to view only a few times a week, under strict circumstances, to watch “Peppa Pig” or another kid’s show.
Setting rules for my daughter’s use of mobile devices isn’t enough, and frankly isn’t very fair. It’s time for me to make choices as well, and as my first order of business I am deleting the Kindle app and shuttering my iBooks library, in favor of books made of paper (IRL books?).
For the upcoming trip, I've done something really nuts -- I checked out library books. In the New York system, it is easy to reserve online, and then pick up from the nearest branch.
Real books have only one purpose, unless you count their usefulness at squashing bugs and propping up air conditioners -- and maybe, to be determined, beating back swarms of ravenous sharks. There are no other apps, no email, no games, no finger movements that summon up yet another distraction in a world overwhelmed by them.
Looking at a book is a behavior that needs no explanation.
Have you decided to ditch your device for tree-based media? Drop me a note if so -- and send me photographic evidence. Keep it clean, people. I will share the responses at a later time. firstname.lastname@example.org.