Things that I think and do
We in Britain are the biggest culprits when it comes to time spent staring at a screen of some variety – usually smartphones or computers – according to a piece I heard on the radio yesterday. Among the presenter’s tedious eulogies about a boom in lavender production this summer and the latest technology in wood-staining, he mentioned a survey which shows that we beat all other nations when it comes to looking at phones.
Considering our national failures this summer (the World Cup non-show being a particular highlight) we could celebrate this as an achievement. We’ve come top in something for a change! That would be an extremely British way of looking at it.
Obviously, though, the bods who undertook this particular survey haven’t visited this summer school. If they had, they’d be forced to conclude that continentals between the ages of 11 and 16 far outstrip the British capacity to stare at screens.
It’s ludicrous how dependent these kids are on their mobiles; the phones are like an extension of their hand. Threatening to take away their iPhone will do far more than any drill sergeant-style discipline. I’m not sure if it’s the novelty of having a high-tech toy to play with, or the need to be in constant contact with parents and friends, or even just mild addiction. I suspect it’s probably the latter two.
We’ll have some new arrivals on Sunday and I would bet my future mortgages that for many of them the first question they ask will be how to connect to the WiFi (some of them call it “the LAN” which I think is amusing and quirky). Last week some kids asked me about it even before they’d taken off their backpacks and taken a seat in the office to wait for check-in. It’s really quite worrying.
The constant messaging and WhatsApp-ing “Mamma ❤ ❤ <3”, as I saw on the phone of a 13 year-old Italian boy – one with some latent Oedipal issues to look at in future, it seems – isn’t the only use for the ubiquitous iPhones. In any given period of free time most of the boys can be found inside, curled up in a chair and crowded silently around a phone to watch something or other or play an impossibly complicated-looking game. It’s the only time they’ll actually be quiet, so in a way it’s a welcome sight.
Aside from getting them to temporarily shut up though, it’s a pretty sad sight to see. Their parents are paying thousands of pounds for them to stay in a top English private school, in the middle of some admittedly quite gorgeous English countryside, to learn English and meet other friends from all over the world, and they’re spending the majority of their time heads bowed, staring at a screen barely bigger than my palm.
If I wanted to sound old and cranky I could go on about how young people today are too dependent on technology and how back in my day I was happily entertained with a stick and half a sheet of paper. Or that it’s all society’s fault and when I was younger I didn’t have an iPhone, I had four jobs and no shoes to wear.
That would be a bit hypocritical though, considering my job here requires me to sit behind a computer for large amounts of time. My phone is usually on me or on the desk as well, in the vague hope of getting a text or interesting email. I also think that the sort of parents who send their kids here with iPhones and posh technology like that do it so that the kids stay in touch with them almost constantly anyway. Their parental worry overpowers our constant reassurance that our staff isn’t formed of lurking criminals and we do have some idea about how to look after children. Of course, they still listen to their kids’ tales of torture through lack of WiFi or neglect because of a mild case of sniffles, choosing to believe that we’re depriving them of proper care and attention.
We’re not. But the kids are depriving themselves of so many experiences during their time here because they’d rather watch a comic in their own language or get a new high score on 2048 than look at the new environment around them. And that’s sad. Because 2048 is damn near impossible to finish so they’ll be there for some time.
*The photo above is not of any students here. They are fictional characters. Or probably real people posing. But the point remains that it’s not anyone I know or have seen in real actual life.