Are cellphones changing interactions among family members here in Argentina, and not for the better?
When we first came here in 2005, we were impressed with the easy and natural conversation flow among multi-generational gatherings. In the US, extended-family dinners often turn into occasions where conversations are enjoyed by the parents/grandparents, but merely endured by teenagers who bide their time until they can escape with their peers. By contrast, here all generations seemed to enter enthusiastically into mealtime chat with each other.
While we are fortunate enough to be included in the regular gatherings of two families who haven’t lost the art of joyful conversation, we are also aware of other family dynamics that we are increasingly seeing. Just one example: We couldn’t help noticing the generational divide in the family seated next to us at a restaurant for Sunday dinner with Abuela. Her two daughters and their husbands talked animatedly with her and with each other, while the younger generation sat in isolation, each staring intently at his/her cell phone, during the whole meal.
I’m not entirely blaming teenagers for this behavior, as it is a reflection of the world around us. We’ve all seen cell-absorbed pedestrians oblivious to the traffic zooming past them, and I suspect most of us have narrowly escaped collisions caused by texting drivers.
Does the obsession with mobile phones mark a societal point of no return, or is there a chance the pendulum will swing? If so, will the mere subsiding of the cell phone’s novelty be enough to bring about a return to civility?