I was strolling down a very busy Broadway in New York City a couple of weeks ago. It was a very nice Saturday and it seemed like everyone was out walking and shopping. In front of me there was a woman and her very young child— maybe three or four-years old. The woman was completely entranced by her cell phone. She was texting away. Her daughter was walking a few steps behind her and was meandering around.
My wife and I found this very unsettling. So, too, did two young men who were approaching us. They looked at each other and got ready to say something to the young mother. My wife beat them to the punch, telling the woman that she needed to pay attention to her child because someone could simply grab the child since the mother appeared completely oblivious to the surroundings. The mother grunted— there is no other way to describe it— and yelled to her child to stay with her. As we crossed the street I looked back and noticed that, while the daughter was closer to her mother, the mother was back to texting.
This all reminded me of an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation, where members of the crew discovered this toy that completely captivates them to the point that they can do nothing but play with it.
On another recent day, I saw a mother and her child walking to school with the mother texting away, ignoring the child altogether. Let me be clear. I use my cell phone regularly. But what I am seeing is not simply the usage of cell phones. Rather, it’s as though the cell phone is replacing real human contact. It is as if the cell phone is a narcotic. The woman in NYC had completely lost focus. Her child could have vanished in a nano-second and she would not have noticed.
Yet, there is another aspect to this. When I was a child and with my parents, they would talk with me. I do not mean that I was the center of every conversation, but we spoke about all sorts of things. If a parent is focused on that cell— and dollars to donuts they are not cutting deals for some hedge fund or handling major issues in their organizations— they cannot pay attention to the questions that the child might be asking or might wish to ask.
Let me put it even more directly in case I have been too subtle: what is so important in that cell phone that one feels comfortable ignoring a child?
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.