Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fathers and Blackberries

Much has been written about the Crackberriness of the Blackberry hand-held device: how it only gives the semblance of freedom and flexibility, but in reality acts as a kind of "leash" to keep people tethered to their jobs at all hours of the day. It's not just the Blackberry that's to blame, though: all these devices distract us from the here and now with their promises of "connection."

I've noticed a bitter paradox here. In connecting to someone someplace else via these PDAs (an acronym for that hideous phrase, Personal Digital Assistant), people tend to disconnect from whoever they are with and wherever they actually are. The same is true with iPods and their ilk. How many times a day have I seen someone blabbing loudly away on his phone without an ounce of regard for the people around him? How many times do you see someone, headphones in ears and head bobbing to music only he can hear, crossing the street without looking both ways...without looking any way but straight ahead? This kind of behavior used to be the exclusive purview of teenagers, but sadly it is spreading.

The most depressing instance of this phenomenon is the father who prefers sending emails on his handheld device to interacting with his attention-starved children. I've seen it twice now in two days, in two different coffee shops. Yesterday, for example, a family clearly visiting Boston sat at the table next to me. They had Tourists written all over them--maps, guides, Boston paraphernalia, cheap souvenirs. The mother drank her latte in quiet, concentrated sips, staring at the passersby on Newbury Street with an attention that seemed pointed, forced, and deliberate. Her husband sat nearby, pushing a beautiful toddler back and forth in a stroller. The child was clapping his hands, singing, talking about a bird, making goofy faces, but what did the father do? Check and send emails. Oh, every once in a while he uttered a "Yes?" or a "Really?" or an "Un-huh" without even looking up. But the poor kid eventually stopped his performance to stare forlornly at the ground. The father never noticed because he never made eye contact with anything but the screen of his PDA.

Do you remember when PDA stood for "Public Display of Affection"?

I hereby declare only to engage in old-fashioned forms of PDA with my child. You know, hugging and oohing and ahhing and speaking. If you ever catch me using any new-fangled PDA and ignoring the kid, I give you permission to snatch it from my hands and throw it into a pond. Remind me of this blog post and say "for shame."

Having said all that, it's fully acceptable for an adult to read a book or newspaper in front of a child. I know this may be logically inconsistent, but so be it. Call me biased. I'll read aloud.

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