OPINION - Phones are taking away our children, we need to ban them in more places

 (Sarfraz Manzoor)
(Sarfraz Manzoor)

There are times when I swear my daughter has a deeper relationship with her phone than she does with me. Laila is 11 and we bought her an iPhone earlier this year after she waged a relentless campaign that featured crying, begging and accusations that we were going to make her the laughing stock of her class unless we conceded to her demands. We held out for as long as we could because we feared that once she had a smartphone we would start losing her — and we were pretty much on the money.

Now she comes home from school and immediately vanishes into her room, where she decompresses with Subway Surfers, gets creative with Piscart and chats to her friends on WhatsApp. There are, nominally, limits on how much time she is allowed on each app but in reality I usually find myself agreeing to extend how much time she is allowed because the consequence of not agreeing is crying, begging and general disquiet.

When she is not on her phone she is on Netflix and although her screen usage is not unusual it does concern me. This past weekend my wife and little boy went away for a few days so I saw it as an opportunity to spend some quality time with my daughter and remind her of the world beyond the phone. It is a lesson I also need to learn — but how?

“Please turn off your phones” instructed the recorded announcement “because they weren’t around in 1989.” It was Saturday afternoon and I had arranged to take Laila to the Other Palace to see a matinee performance of Heathers, the stage musical based on the Eighties film. It seemed like the sort of thing she might enjoy and I was right — for the next three hours neither she nor I looked at our phones because we were too busy being transported by the music and drama performed in front of us.

My time with my daughter in the theatre reminded me that there are so few places now where we cannot use our phones. Planes, trains and automobiles — we are forever connected. I have friends who are currently sailing around the world —in theory they are thousands of miles away but in reality they are on Instagram.

On Tuesday evening I went to the gala performance of A Streetcar Named Desire with my wife, and again for three hours we were liberated from our phones— even though they were in our bags. When a member of a theatre audience recently used a phone to take a photograph of James Norton naked on stage it prompted a conversation as to whether phones ought to be banned in theatres.

I’m all for it. The times and places where we are able to forget our phones increasingly feel previous and valuable. The more places where phones are banned the better. Given how much phones encroach upon our lives, perhaps theatres, cinemas and music venues would all be doing us a favour if they compelled us to hand them over — it would mean we would be forced to fully inhabit and savour what is around us. If it takes an actor’s todger to get us to spend less time on our phones, Norton can feel proud that he played his part.

I might need to rethink my diet

It is nigh on impossible to speak to a doctor these days, so you can imagine my shock when a text landed on my phone saying my doctor wanted to talk to me. The results of my latest blood test had revealed that I was, to use her words, ‘mildly diabetic’.

‘Mildly diabetic’ also happens to describe most of my most loved meals, but this news has forced me to start rethinking my relationship with food. Perhaps I should follow in the footsteps of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who recently revealed that he eats only one meal a day. It is clearly working for him and if I was more strong-willed I would consider it.

However, I’m not so I won’t —while such a diet might add years to one’s life, in my case I would spend a large portion of those years fantasising about saag aloo, chapattis and parathas.