The future of communication is never certain, and we can’t just ignore the fact that phones and screen of all kinds are here to stay. Communication has always been constantly changing: change is the one constant! But now phones are not just a tool for communication; they are PART of the conversation and can become a blocker for really talking to each other. Have you noticed that? We think we are chatting but actually everyone is just looking at a screen, like in this series of eerie photos by Eric Pickersgill where he has taken the devices away.
There is much discussion about whether phones should be banned around babies and scary headlines that tell us we are damaging our babies by letting them even see screens before the age of three. The research is not conclusive, as this NY Times article explains. The technology is all too new to say for sure that screens are bad. Just think back to what phones looked like 20 years ago, when we first started texting, and 66 years ago, when the below article was published. Could the writer know that they were predicting the future so accurately?
Cornerstones of communication
Technology is changing rapidly, and with it we are shifting how we talk to each other with so-far unseen consequences. But what we do know is that the fundamentals of human communication haven't changed much in thousands of years:
🤱🏽 Parents have always sung to their children and shared stories together.
👶🏼 Babies are absorbing language (even from before birth) and need interaction with us: it’s a call-and-response two-way process, even before they start saying anything intelligible.
📱 Our phones aren’t interacting in the same way – they don’t respond to babies’ cues, and we might miss our baby’s cues if we are looking at our phones. Babies who don’t get a response will eventually stop trying to elicit one – just look at very neglected babies who stop crying because no one comes to comfort them. 😢Listen to Cate discuss how babies learn to speak with Dr Kat Draper on The Language Revolution Podcast here.
But what can we do? Phones are a reality!
Build in some time each day where phones are turned off, or put away out of sight and out of mind, and not part of the conversation. Get back to the 1953 style of communicating with babies: singing, talking, sitting on the floor playing the same games a million times. Enjoy their joy at this repetition and their gradual development. Notice the little stages they go through and take pleasure in them. Turn phone notifications off and just NOTICE what is happening right there instead.
If phones are part of the conversation, use them as a tool that sparks a chat between you, minimising the phone‘s tendency to take over and silence everyone.
For example, if you are watching a song or video on YouTube, discuss what’s happening in that YouTube video. Even if your baby is too young to reply, you can point out and name the shapes, colours or objects (oh look, there’s a...), the people (what’s her name? What is she doing?), what might happen next (I wonder if they will go to the zoo...?), and reminisce about your related shared experiences together (do you remember when?) Pretend they've responded and chat away as if they have said something meaningful, funny or super clever.
Make links to things in real life, deepening your shared experiences, so that watching a video isn’t a passive experience but part of your woven narrative of shared life experiences. Did you see that viral video of a dad and his son chatting about what they were watching on the TV? Here is dad DJ Pryor talking on CNN about why he makes videos of himself chatting to his 19-month-old son Kingston.
We think it shows that having fun chatting, singing songs and telling stories are still the cornerstones of communication. The technological tools may change (in fact, phones will most definitely look different in another 66 years!) and open up even more ways of reaching each other, but we can remember how humans have always communicated and keep ourselves at the heart of our conversations.
Because people talk, it’s just what humans do!