I Am Being Watched

Adam Siegel on the rudeness of using your phone in front of other people:

The other day, I planted Margot on the floor with some toys and she happily began playing. In an almost unconscious habit whenever I have a short moment of free time in between tasks, I took the brief respite to pull out my phone and check my mail. 60 seconds later after reading a couple messages and deleting a few more, I looked up from the screen to see that Margot had stopped playing and was staring at me. “This is how it begins,” I thought. I’m showing her my screen deserves my attention at the moment more than she does….

And why do I feel so strongly about this? Because there is absolutely nothing on any screen that is more important than the time I spend with my kid, especially at this stage of her development.

But if “multi-tasking” with a screen and interaction with my child bothers me so much because I’m worried about the lesson she’ll take away from it, why do I find it perfectly acceptable to behave this way around my wife, family, co-workers, and friends? …

The problem, however, is whether you like it or not, you’re still conveying the message that your screen at that moment is more important than the person you’re with. Like my baby daughter, they’re watching you behave this way. And I suspect instead of finding it perfectly “acceptable,” your companion(s) find it hurtful, annoying, or just rude, even if they’re behaving exactly the same way.

I’m incredibly guilty of this as well. I like what Adam says he’s started doing about this:

I’ve started to try and change my behavior to make the people I care about feel like they have my full attention. I’ve started to ask permission of my wife to use my laptop or phone while I’m in the same room as her so she knows my focus will be elsewhere temporarily.

Also, it’s interesting to note that in public this nose-in-phone behavior means precisely what Adam doesn’t like about it in private: what I’m looking at is more important than you, so don’t bother me. The phone becomes a way to escape the shared public space.