(Not about reading)
Kids have a certain kind of straightforwardness, honesty that often comes off as brutal, unnecessarily truthful, and cruel: “Oh my god, I didn’t know you were that old,” they tell me. As we grow, we learn politeness, whether real, phony, bogus: “Oh, please. You are so young,” the adults lie.
For these reasons, and more, I thoroughly enjoy spending time with kids, always trying to out-play, out-goof, and out-kid them. And since they still have to respect me as the adult in the room, we tend to have a good time together; we play, they tell me things without forced politeness and adulthood lies, which I appreciate, and I make sure they don’t get kidnapped. It’s all good.
This time, I’m hanging out with a 10-year-old. It is getting late, and I’m telling her to go to sleep, it’s way past her bed time, kids these days, etc. “I hate sleep!” she says to me, and I can tell she wants to talk to me, but I am on my phone, paying half attention to reddit, half attention to her. After a couple more attempts at a conversation, she asks me, with genuine curiosity, “what are you reading?” I immediately feel guilty, and a little bit shame. “Um, nothing,” I tell her, and it is nothing, nothing important anyway.
I have a million excuses in my head: it’s late, I’m tired, I just want to escape into mindless entertainment online— kid, please go to sleep! But there she is, with all her curiosity, boredom, and a million questions for the adult in the room, wanting to talk to me and wondering what could be important on my phone that I am ignoring her to pay attention to it, and it is nothing. I have been thinking about that moment quite a lot. What am I reading on my phone as I ignore the people, things, situations, life around me?
We often turn to our devices not because there is something important to tend to, something more important than what is happening in real time, but because we want to escape; after a long day, facing a difficult emotion, feeling utterly bored. If the situation is appropriate— would you read a book in similar situation?— then it’s okay to pull out your phone and get lost in whatever digital option you find yourself in. Sometime it’s just nice to go through YouTube shorts for that sweet, sweet dopamine kick. I don’t want to think, or do anything, and these quick bursts of distractions are what I want in that moment. But, other times it’s inappropriate, and we miss out on a chance to connect to a person, an experience, a moment in time. We think what we need is mindless entertainment, but we miss out on real life moments.
I wish I paid more attention to the 10-year-old; entertained her curiosity, answered her questions to my best ability, and got to hear more of her knock-knock jokes, I am sure she had more to tell me. Because I do not remember what I was reading on my phone that night, like 90 percent of the things I have read on the internet, but here is a knock-knock joke she told me that I remember:
“Nun of your business.”
Until next time,
Sign up for my curated weekly newsletter, time spent offline, on spending less time online and (re)discovering the pleasures of the offline world. Five ideas delivered right to your inbox. Every Tuesday.