I recently got my very first smartphone. The shiny new iPhone 5. I didn’t feel the need… and for the most part, still don’t, see the need for a smartphone. It comes with a phone, a camera, unlimited access to the internet, and hundreds upon hundreds of easily accessible social media sites to let my friends and the world know what I am doing at every single nanosecond of the day. The camera part is what really enthralls me the most about my new phone because I grew up when photos were special. In fact, I remember learning to load film into a camera, careful to shield the film from exposure so I could take my precious pictures. I remember the great sense of anticipation after taking pictures and waiting for them to be developed. I remember rolls of film that only took 24 pictures, and when those rolls became 36 it was a big deal. I remember taking those pictures carefully, and only capturing those special moments… after all, you had to pay for each frame. I still have those pictures that I took and developed. They are neatly archived in plastic binders and labeled with where each was taken and when… because back then, pictures were precious and they were to remember those precious moments.
Now, pictures aren’t like that. In fact, most cell phones (do people even call them “cell phones” anymore?) have cameras, and everyone that has a smartphone has one click access to a good quality camera. People take millions of pictures with their smart phones. Even the precocious 9 year old that lives down the street from me has a smart phone… and iPhone to be exact. It was this 9 year old that tuned me into how different childhood is today. It was this precocious (just two letters away from precious) brat that took one look at my outdated black and white slider phone before whipping out her iPhone to take a picture to “Instagram” it to her friends and stating in her best “duhhhhh” voice that my phone was a “piece of shit.” The phrase has yet to escape my mind… in fact the pitch of her voice and the tilt of her head will forever haunt me. “Your phone. Is. A. Piece. Of. SHIT.” Followed by the ominous “click” of her iPhone as she uploaded the picture to her “Instagram.”
I marvel at my little 9 year old “friend.” She is NINE… Today’s 9 is entirely different from my NINE. I remember running around outside, climbing trees, and rolling down the grassy hills in the neighborhood. I remember chasing the ice cream truck and knocking on my friends’ doors to ask if they could come out and play. I remember collecting worms to creep out my older sister… and occasionally throwing worms at my friends. I still would, if it wasn’t frowned upon for newly minted attorneys to chuck worms at people they don’t like. But, 9 today is nothing like that. Today, 9 year olds tweet, text, and “Instagram” (a concept I still fail to grasp)… they play at an entirely different level which utilizes social media platforms, smartphones, and the internet. Nine years old today means mini-adults in skin tight jeans, neon t-shirts plastered to their ribs, sparkly smartphones and equally smart mouths to go along.
Walking down the street, the little kids are no longer interested in what happens around them, but what is happening in that little rectangular piece of technology with blinking lights in front of them. These phones are glued to their little hands… it’s amazing that children retain any shred of innocence at all. I saw this little glimmer of innocence when my little friend told me her feelings were hurt by someone being mean to her at school. Yet… the “meanness” was the result, again, of a smartphone. Her friend had taken a rather unflattering picture and immediately uploaded it to a social media page where all of her friends saw it. These smartphones given children an entirely new facet of bullying that did not exist when I was a kid… and when I was a kid? Bullying sucked. So I imagine that for my 9 year old friend that bullying today sucks even more. I can’t imagine the amount of stress that children must feel from this constant buzz of smartphone nonsense. I can’t imagine being a 9 year old and being worried about someone taking an unflattering picture of me. I can’t imagine having these types of concerns…. especially at 9 years old. That’s still elementary school age, when our children should be worried about whether it’s chicken nugget day at school… not if their friends are taking mean pictures.
In some countries (most notably, South Korea) all cameras are required to make an audible “click” when a photo is being taken. The purpose? So that the subject of the photo is being illicitly photographed doing something they would rather not have photographed. We don’t have these types of restrictions (and I certainly do not advocate them because of the Constitutional questions that arise from restrictions of freedom of speech and whatnot), however I wonder if the intent of this type of restriction was to lower the amount of stress the everyday individual has to be concerned about. I can’t imagine being a 9 year old and looking over my shoulder, concerned that a classmate is taking a picture that will make me the subject of cruel, childish torment. Children, after all, are creative when it comes to torment. I remember calling someone a “tin can” (I can’t remember how I got there) but I do remember making the kid cry. (I also remember being reprimanded harshly, before being dragged down the street to apologize to my victim in person and say sorry to his mother too.) I can’t imagine what damage a child could do with a smartphone at their disposal. I can only imagine the incredible stress that is caused by the ever accesible smartphone. Everyone knows the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” and the common reprimand “your words can hurt people.” So… if logic serves me correctly… if words can hurt, then a picture can hurt even more because the strength of those images is a thousand times stronger than a single word.
As a kid, I called another child a tin can and sent him home in tears… what happens today when a child takes a mean photograph of another? And then posts it in a social media site for hundreds of others to see… and all of their friends? What happens to these precocious children? Are they simply tougher than my generation? Or are they meaner, sadder, and more hurt?