Babies and Phones: Can They Tell When We’re Wasting Time?

This article adds a couple fascinating subtleties to the wide open question of how parents’ smartphones are affecting this generation of children. One interesting distinction the author draws is in her daughter’s interest in the embodied gestures of smartphone use, not so much the screen. It sounds like little Zelda is rarely even exposed to the glowing screen, but she loves the physical actions of pinch-zooming and babbling into the handset.

But I was even more interested in this observation:

“I’ve noticed that when I talk on the phone, Zelda is patient. She looks at me, I look at her. She yells or laughs or plays with her toys. But when I use that same phone to ‘check my email’ (code for literally anything else I do on the phone), she becomes an impatient, insistent mess.”

This suggests that young’uns are attuned to something about adult attention that we might not even be aware of ourselves. Zelda seems able to distinguish between adults who are paying attention to things they’re involved with and present doing, and who are zoning out, wasting time on their phones. She tolerates the former, and the latter drives her crazy. It’s amazing; Zelda can sense the not-thereness of someone just aimlessly pulling to refresh, waiting for that dopamine hit.

The post contains one IRL fallacy — “we humans on the internet but also living lives” — but I found it to be mostly balanced and insightful.

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