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Talking and laughing to a cell phone
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 20 - 06 - 2016

It is the early symptoms and signs in a person or a group that warn family, first, and then the society to take corrective action in the face of any addiction. Then invariably awareness programs are launched to control a possible menace. Although rooting out such addiction completely becomes a near-impossible effort.
Warnings about addiction to substances that might harm the body and sometimes lead to death abound in a society, which tries its best to keep its young from harm's way. We always get warnings not to use drugs because addiction to drugs will damage the body and may lead to quick death. In addition, the evil breeds evil acts that sink the addict into moral turpitude. We receive warnings about addiction to junk food that would harm the body and later cause major diseases that might lead to death. The list goes on.
There are many types of addictions that have afflicted societies, who have pushed back in their own way to curb the rise of these addictions. But the latest and one of the worst of them these days are slowly growing under the radar of the societies' watchful eyes, and we all need to wake up. The addiction to smartphones and social media programs, especially among the youth, is widespread. But the middle aged or the old too are not spared.
Recently when I was at the beach with my family, I saw this phenomenon and any attempt to check it proved futile. Near us was a family of five children. The parents who seemed to be in their 50s were relaxing and talking. The kids, meanwhile, were busy conversing with their cell phones, not only through their mouth and ears, but also with their fingers, as if this was not enough they were seen putting the phone to their face to talk through social media programs.
I saw and even overheard the father criticizing his children and literally ordering them to leave their phones for five minutes and chat with them or just relax and enjoy the sunset. I am not exaggerating when I say this. The children listened to their father and left their smartphones for exactly one minute before going back to their addiction. Even for the one minute their focus was on their phones as they intermittently heard what their parents were speaking while contributing to the conversation with silence. The father's repeated requests to join the conversation fell on deaf ears and he finally gave up.
On the same day I saw another scene that imprinted itself on my mind. A group of youngsters managed to do the impossible of walking with their eyes glued to their cell phone screens and ears plugged while being oblivious to the activity round them in a crowded pathway. It was the oncoming people who moved out of their path as the group made its way loudly and without a care!
Another act of the youth that gets my goat and also makes me wonder sometimes is why a group of friends agree to get together anywhere and then spend 70 percent of their time in the get-together talking on their cell phones and surfing through social media? Each one of these people in the gathering is in a little island by him/herself.
Some families do not realize they are putting their children in danger zone by not controlling their engagement on social media and smartphone devices such as iPhones, iPods and iPads. There are families who use these devices to distract their children. If a child is making too much noise or being a nuisance generally, then the mother/father would give them a cell phone or iPad to play with and stay quiet. This will surely addict the child to these devices and God knows the negative impact it will have on the child's personality.
Addicts to smartphones and social media become introverts and prefer isolation. In time, the smartphone addict will find difficulty in communicating with people. And he will resort to live in his island from where he can connect with all. He will prefer to spend most of the time talking to virtual people on a smartphone than talk with actual people, even his parents and family members. If someone starves him of his smartphone, then like any other addict he will develop a craving to get it back just like a drug addict who craves for his drugs and is lost without it.
Sadly very few families have taken note of the growing danger of cell phone addiction and acted accordingly to save their children before it is too late. Others simply have given up believing that there is no solution. For them, when the child cries, then the best way to stop the crying is to hand him a smartphone or iPad.
Have we tried as parents to find an alternative to wean the child's attention away from this addiction? Did we try to encourage them to read? Did we try to interest them and invest in hobbies and motivate them to work on their hobbies during their free time? Did we even find time to talk them? And during such talks did we tell them about the dangers of addiction? Are we as parents aware of the danger of this cell addiction in the first place?
At least some form of resistance is coming, mostly, from the elderly who have grown up in an age when there were no smartphones. They are the ones that mostly take on this type of addiction head on. There are some elderly who force their children to give up their cell phone, which is then put inside a basket or a bag, before they sit with them in a social gathering. There are some who have set up a "no cell phones rule" during quality family time.
Many of my friends have told me that they and their friends are resisting the smartphones addiction in this way. The measures are simple: No one is allowed inside a private enclosure without switching off their cell phones. Anyone who wants to use his smartphone is more than welcome to do it outside the private enclosure. Their main purpose is that they want to socialize by talking.
The addiction has reached such levels that there is a joke now circulating to depict a Saudi. The joke starts with a query, how do you know a Saudi man abroad? The answer is: He is the one whose eyes are glued to the smartphone screen.
This type of addiction is being studied abroad and there are many researches on such addiction, which have thrown up possible solutions to curb this menace. How many of us have read such studies? Have we done something at the same level here? And we need specialized independent bodies to study this phenomenon and seriously increase awareness such that families recognize the danger.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]
Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng


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