When Idle Time Becomes Screen Time for Adults

Maybe you are one of them. I know I can be. You know, those people who look at their phone during any idle time that comes their way.

It’s so easy to look at your phone while waiting for your coffee at Starbucks, or while waiting for the movie to start at the theater, or while waiting for the bus or subway.

But have you ever stopped to think - I mean really think - about the affects all of this screen time is causing on society? I know it sounds overly-dramatic, and I never really stopped to think about it until earlier this summer. 

My kids were enrolled in a YMCA day camp, which meant that I dropped them off and picked them up every day at a local Y that served as a bus stop to bring them to and from camp.

Drop off was a piece of cake, but the pick up was a bit more involved.

Every afternoon around 4:10, I pulled into the parking lot, headed over to the line where other parents of campers stood, and waited for the orange and black school bus to pull into the lot.

The line was usually pretty short when I arrived, and grew steadily by the minute until it was at least 40 parents deep by the bus’s scheduled arrival time.

It should be noted that the line was formed outside the building, in front of a west-facing wall of windows. With the late-July/early-August sun beating down, this was not a comfortable place to stand.

Yet we all did. Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles…we all stood there, hot and sweaty, looking purposefully at the parking lot entrance, hoping the bus would arrive soon so that we could escape this inferno.

Except that very few people were actually looking up at all. Rather, they were (almost) all looking down at their phones.

I noticed the trend the very first day of my pick-up duty, and saw it continue every day thereafter.

I realize we live in a connected world, made even more so with smart phones. But I was particularly struck, not only by how it seemed everyone was looking at their phone, but also by how quiet it was standing there in line.

No talking. No idle chit-chat; just texting, sliding and browsing.

Throughout the two weeks, I decided to count, at various times on various days, how many people were looking at their phones and how many weren’t.

Once, when the line was seven deep, five were looking down at their phones. When the line was 16 people long, 13 of them were looking at their phone. And once, when the line had 23 people, all but two of us were looking at their phones.

I’m not sure why this bothered me, but it did. There we were, all together for the same reason, all experiencing great discomfort for the sake of our children, all with a common thread, if only for a few minutes each day.

But no one tried to capitalize on it, bond over it, or even talk.

And that’s the rub. 

Technology is great, to a point. When used for the right things, it’s downright awesome. But when people use it for the wrong things, then, frankly, it sucks. 

I’m not saying that looking at your phone is all bad and talking to people is all good. Except that at times, looking at your phone is bad when you could be talking to people, which is good.

What’s more, what kind of message are we sending to our kids by these actions?

I imagine many parents send their kids to day camp so they can interact with others, engage in a variety of activities and make new friends. 

So what do you think these kids are thinking when they see, as the bus pulls into the parking lot, their parents within a group of others not talking, not engaging, but rather looking down at their phones? What kind of lesson are we teaching them by these actions? 

Certainly not a lesson I want to be teaching my kids.

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