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Mobile-Phone Shaming Has Reached Peak Hysteria

We need to stop assuming the worst when we see someone on their phone, and perhaps keep our noses out of it.

29/03/2017 11:18 AM AEDT | Updated 29/03/2017 11:18 AM AEDT
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"It's 2017 -- phones are an integral part of our existence."

Congratulations, Society -- we've finally reached peak mobile-phone shaming hysteria.

This week, the woman photographed holding her mobile phone while walking past a victim of London's most recent terror attack has been forced to defend herself to the world and explain her actions. It was bad enough that she was wearing a hijab, clearly indicating her approval of violence against humanity in general, but she also appeared to be hurrying past the scene, looking at her phone.

How. Dare. She.

Assumptions about her 'callousness' were primarily motivated by the presence of her hijab, and response to that outrage has focused on the negative and unfair stereotyping of Muslims. That was my initial reaction, too. But when the woman, under intense social media pressure, explained this week that "I then decided to call my family to say that I was fine", I realised this was also about something as simple, and petty, as mobile phone shaming.

I think it was obvious to any rational person who looked at her face rather than her headwear that she was communicating after a tragedy, as any normal human would do.

What did people think she was doing? Texting ISIS with a brown thumbs-up emoji? Ordering Uber Eats? Snapchatting live from the scene using the dog filter with the hashtag #sadpuppy?

I think it was obvious to any rational person who looked at her face rather than her headwear that she was communicating after a tragedy, as any normal human would do.

If the poor woman hadn't been looking at her phone, she may not have been vilified as much. People might not have accused her of gross indifference. Let's face it -- the hijab was the main thing that sent the trolls into meltdown, but the phone was the nail in her coffin.

Such abuse was hypocritical, considering that most of us would also have contacted family to reassure them after such a horrific event, and given that most people who saw the photo and tweeted their displeasure at her apparent lack of emotion probably did so on a smartphone.

It's 2017 -- phones are an integral part of our existence. Why do many of us still assume the worst when we see someone on their phone? Why is it considered selfish, or anti-social, when the object of it is to achieve the opposite? Surely we are allowed to actually use the overpriced devices in public occasionally -- otherwise, what is the point of them?

The telling off of people for using their phones is something that society needs to get over. Of course I'm not talking about the laws surrounding mobile phones and cars, or the taking of unauthorised, inappropriate photos -- things that are illegal. But in general, we need to stop assuming the worst when we see someone on their phone, and perhaps keep our noses out of it.

I was once mobile-phone shamed, in significantly more pedestrian circumstances than the maligned woman, but the accusation was similar: I was being a terrible human. I was in a restaurant with my six-year-old son, and I looked up from my phone to find a waitress at our table, not there to take an order or deliver our meals, but to tell me off.

The implication in phone shaming is always that you are wantonly ignoring someone or something whilst you indulge yourself -- and that's just BS.

"You know, your son is sitting right there," she told me.

I stared at her impassively and replied: "I'm making a change to my father's death notice that's in the paper tomorrow."

That shut her up.

The implication in phone shaming is always that you are wantonly ignoring someone or something whilst you indulge yourself -- and that's just BS. If I'm on my phone, "ignoring" my child, there's three potential reasons why:

1. My primary job -- my son. The constant succession of emails, calls and texts about school, his activities and his social life, are impossible to address only when he's not with me. Because he is usually with me. I can't shake the kid.

2. My secondary job -- my paid employment, aka, how I put food on the table. Working in a responsive industry, I simply can't be unavailable from 3 pm onwards. The rest of the world doesn't cease to exist at school pick-up time. And I don't see any issue with letting my child know that. I spent so many childhood weekends doing house calls with my doctor father -- how is this different?

3. My own amusement -- which makes me a better parent. For example, I could be sending coffee and martini emojis on repeat for 12 sets in response to a text from a friend asking if I want to catch up later, because I need to indicate that I'm keen for one, civilised, espresso martini. To me, that is a crucial, life-saving, emergency text. It would almost be a parenting fail not to send it -- tantamount to giving your child the oxygen mask first in the event of an emergency.

I think the above reasons could apply to any parent, and any phone user. Life happens on our phones. So let's stop the phone-shaming; it's unreasonable, it's antiquated, and more than anything, it's simply no-one else's business.


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