This week I learnt about mobile phones from two wise teenagers. For the last few months, like many people, I’ve been trying to use my phone less. Extended phone time leaves me feeling anxious, inadequate and usually with a long list of things to do or buy.
There was no dramatic digital detox, but I’ve made some small changes to my habits. Turning off notifications for email and social media has made the most impact. I no longer hear the siren call of messages received or notice the little numerical red dot demanding I relieve it of its duties. In the evenings I’ve been picking up a book in place of my phone. The return to the printed page has been wonderful, I didn’t realise how much I missed it.
I spent time this week with two of my in-laws, two lads aged 17 and 13. They don’t see the time they spend on their phones as problematic. They use their phones mostly for Snapchat or YouTube. On Snapchat they message friends and follow the occasional ‘celebrity’. They use Instagram sporadically and only one of them has Facebook, which he describes as ‘irrelevant’.
YouTube, they tell me, is where the entertainment is. Their favourite YouTubers are TGF Bro, two lads from Birmingham who have 3.4 million subscribers. In December TGF Bro had to call emergency services because one of them put his head in a microwave and filled it with Polyfilla. The breathing tube they had fashioned got blocked and the Polyfilla was crushing his skull. While idiotic, TGF Bro are nothing new. They’re this generation’s Jackass except with references to clickbait and product placement.
"We talk endlessly about how worried we are for the next generation ... But the lads sitting in front of me could give or take the mobile world."
What was interesting was the lads were wise to the business model and clever editing techniques. They saw them for what they were; light entertainment and nothing more.
At dinner I find myself reaching for my phone but notice the teenagers are busy making conversation. In fact, while I had taken no less than three selfies that day, I realise they hadn’t even glanced at their screens. The tables felt very much turned.
We talk endlessly about how worried we are for the next generation; growing up on the Internet, surrounded by the digital realm. But the lads sitting in front of me could give or take the mobile world; and there was I, jumpy and irritable on self-imposed digital detox. Pass the Polyfilla.