Of smartphones and grandchildren

On one of our ferrying trips our granddaughter turned to me and said ‘How were you in touch with your friends if you didn’t have a smartphone?’

A girl holds a smartphone (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: REUTERS)
A girl holds a smartphone
With children and grandchildren both in Israel and in the UK, what gives us particular pleasure is when our grownup grandchildren want to come and stay with their elderly grandparents.
While we appreciate that our London- based grandchildren are looking for the sun and sea (which we can easily provide) at the same time their visits afford us the opportunity of communicating with a generation born into a different world to the one in which we grew up.
This occurred to me graphically when a 22-year-old granddaughter came to stay with us for 10 days. The holiday was planned to coincide with her friend’s visits to Israel where, together, they would meet up with their Israel-based friends.
The smartphone today is an essential accessory for being “in touch” nonstop with friends and family. We were made aware of just what “nonstop” meant as our granddaughter’s accessory was in constant use and almost part of her anatomy. However – now that our granddaughter is no longer a teenager – we did enjoy conversation over dinner without the messaging finger movements which were part of the teenage years. How well I remember her parents telling her off for texting in the middle of a meal – at which point she would disappear with an urgent visit to the toilet.
On one of our ferrying trips our granddaughter turned to me and said “How were you in touch with your friends if you didn’t have a smartphone?” My answer was we did have a house phone – “Oh,” she said, “but you could not be in touch unless at home so how did you manage?” I began to think about it and, whilst I could not give her a specific answer – it being a long time ago – I imagined that we must have made arrangements when we met to meet again. It did not seem to be a problem at the time.
True, in those days, it was not possible to change arrangements at the last minute, which can become standard practice with a smartphone. Whilst there might be advantage in flexibility, it would drive me crazy to wait until the last minute to finalize arrangements. This shows that I am not on the same wavelength as my grandchildren; what they perceive to be a benefit I consider a drawback.
The more time I spend with my grandchildren the more I am convinced that they are born with a chip in their head. I recognize that I am not alone in this theory, for when I was on the phone with a computer technician – endeavoring to understand what exactly he wanted me to do to make my computer return to life – in frustration he said to me “haven’t you a grandchild around?” To which I responded, “If I had I would not need you!”
Whilst I would be the first to admit that this computer age offers many positive opportunities to improve our knowledge in numerous directions at a touch of a button, there is also a downside. Research studies show that a combination of social media and computer games have been responsible for a growing decline in children meeting friends and spending time outside enjoying sports or the beauty of nature. The UK’s Guardian newspaper spoke of a recent survey which claims that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates.
In December 2015 a report by the Israeli NGO State of the Child showed that 83 percent of children aged eight to 15 have smartphones, with 93% using their mobile devices for at least four hours every day. In common with their UK counterparts it is highly likely that they too are lacking in outside physical activity. More troubling, according to a 2016 report by the National Council for the Welfare of Children, is that nearly half of all Israeli children have already been exposed to some manner of sexually negative content.
On a lighter note, Facebook and Twitter offer the opportunity to share with friends what we ate for breakfast and what we are about to have for lunch and a continuous update of our daily activities. Perhaps we should not be surprised to learn that of the 1.65 billion users of Facebook, 82% are in the 18-29 age bracket. To wit, the minute-by-minute happenings of my friends are not of burning interest to me.
Back to my granddaughter’s question as to how I managed without a smartphone when I was her age. I certainly enjoyed speaking directly to my date seated opposite me. These days we see a young couple “enjoying” a night out face-to-face yet not communicating because each is communicating instead with their smartphone.
At the same time I must confess I never used my WhatsApp as much as I did during our granddaughter’s visit. Often it was to find out if she needed picking up from the station, or whether she was spending the night with a friend or another piece of vital information that would keep her grandmother happy just knowing she is all right.
Today’s technological age has given grandparents – with grandchildren living on different continents – the opportunity to remain connected. For this alone we can say of our smartphone – Dayenu!
The writer is Public Relations Chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. She is also active in public affairs.