The holidays are a wonderful time when people from all over the country join each other in honoring childhood traditions. Turkeys are cooked, presents are wrapped, and egg nog starts to line the shelves of supermarkets. Having these small celebrations of being alive during the bleakest months of the year — who likes being cold, wet, and forced to spend most of their day in the dark? — offers some respite from this most trying of seasons.
There is a problem, though, and that’s managing phones.
It wasn’t that long ago when people didn’t have to worry about their relatives using phones during the holidays. When I was a child, the most we thought about phones was when we had to go through the obligatory phone tree to make sure we talked to all of our family members. Nobody had a cellphone, let alone a smartphone, and even if they had they couldn’t have used ‘em without somebody screeching about the sanctity of the holiday gathering.
Things have changed. All of us are older — though few of us are wiser — and smartphones are all but ubiquitous. Everyone from my aunts and uncles to my younger brothers has at least one device they can use during the holiday, and many also have a game console or tablet or e-reader. We’re living in a different world, and that means people must now compete with hand-held technological marvels.
Common courtesy dictates that a smartphone shouldn’t be used at the dinner table. That makes sense at specific times: When someone is observing some kind of religious rite; when the turkey is getting cold because a cousin won’t stop Snapchatting her teenybopper friends; and when someone is engaged in direct conversation with a person trying to text with the phone under the table.
Those are about it. Any other time it shouldn’t matter if someone is using their smartphone at the table. Who cares if the weirdo uncle who wouldn’t talk to anyone either way is reading “Game of Thrones” fan-fiction? And if the socially awkward kid prefers to check Reddit over trying to connect with his bro-ish cousin, why not let him? Phones could also help family members fact-check each others’ claims during discussions about politics.
Some people will read that paragraph and gasp. Others will wonder why I’m bothering to argue for a position most people who fall under the “millennial” umbrella will support. That’s the problem: There are still misconceptions about how people use devices, especially if they dare to use them during the holidays, even though there’s no excuse for anyone, regardless of age, not to know why someone might use a phone at the table.
I remember being told it was rude to play a video game when family was over even if it was perfectly okay to read a book. I also heard that using a computer — or, now, a smartphone — is considered anti-social. Neither complaint makes sense; a book allows a person to ignore their family just as much as a game does, and someone using a device to chat with friends isn’t anti-social. Assuming either is the case is a bizarre anachronism.
One of the joys of the holidays is getting to see people you might not otherwise see throughout the year. But that doesn’t mean every waking moment has to be spent with those people, nor that everyone at a holiday dinner is worth spending time with. In those cases many people would probably be much happier if they had a moment to do whatever they wanted to do, even if that seems to take their attention away from the holidays themselves.
People like different things. Some people are exhausted by conversation and need a while to recharge. Others are shy, don’t like their families, or just want to be entertained while other people are doing their things. (Let’s not even get started on how people are okay with a television being used to watch a football game but aren’t okay with any other type of gadget being used.) Those people shouldn’t be denied use of their phones.
Put another way: Not everyone who uses a phone during the holidays is an asshole. And not taking the time to understand why someone might be using their phone or other device belies an antiquated idea of what it means for a bunch of people to be gathered in the same house. As long as someone isn’t affecting you with whatever they’re doing, just leave ‘em alone and enjoy the day.