Just because it is becoming an “old man shouts at cloud” cliche to point out that electronic devices are encouraging bad habits that will do unpredictable harm to society and human relations in the future doesn’t mean the observation isn’t true, or that it shouldn’t be heeded.
Yesterday, while walking Rugby in a glorious afternoon sun, I found my attention diverted by the sound of a tiny child’s shout of glee and wonder. A little girl, resplendent in a pink dress but not yet capable of coherent speech, had seen my happy Jack Russell from across the street and was pointing to him, laughing, and trying to get the attention of her mother as the two walked along in the opposite direction of where we were headed. I also tried to get the woman’s notice, since my practice is to take Rugby to kids when they exhibit the reactions the little girl was running through.
The mother, however, was fully occupied talking on her cell phone. She never looked up, never saw me, never saw Rugby, or acknowledged her daughter. She just snatched the girl’s hand—the little girl had been previously hustling to keep up with her—and pulled her past us as the toddler looked longingly behind, and Rugby wagged his tail. Of course, she never interrupted the call, which I’m certain was crucial to world peace.
I see this all the time, more and more frequently: parents spending “quality time” with their children by having the kids walk along side of them (or behind), almost completely ignored, while they give most of their attention to chatting or texting to some distant friend or associate. The behavioreven bothers me when it is a dog rather than a child who being ignored, but dogs recover from neglect, emotional and otherwise, a lot better than children.
That woman, I thought, wouldn’t chat away on a phone call if she were walking with an adult companion, and then I instantly erased the idea: I have seen people doing that, too. Recently, waiting for my wife outside of the 7-11, I witnessed the depressing sight of four teenagers walking along together, saying nothing, all with their eyed fastened to smartphones.
Relating my experience with the mother and the little girl to my wife later, I was firmly chided for not intervening. “You should have shouted, ‘Hey! Pay attention to your daughter! You’re a mother; what the hell’s the matter with you?’ “I was told. “Maybe that would shame the woman into her senses.”
I didn’t think the incident rose to the level that would obligate an ethical person to act through various duties we have discussed on Ethics Alarms, such as the duty to warn, the duty to confront, the duty to try, the duty to protect children, the duty to prevent harm. My wife disagrees. “I think it’s child abuse,” she said.
Well, it’s definitely society abuse. Imagine how those teens and that little girl will raise their kids.