Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hiding behind our mobiles

Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

I read a short thoughtful post by Anne-Marie Körling (in Swedish, I skydd av mobilen – något om de ensamma i skolanProtected by the mobile - about the lonely pupils in school) about how some school pupils use their mobile devices as a refuge when they feel threatened or excluded. There's a touching quote from a pupil who pretends to be checking important messages when classmates ignore her or to avoid getting into a confrontation. This also adds a seldom discussed element to the eternal discussion of whether or not to ban mobiles in schools. The option of hiding behind your mobile was only possible before the start of the school day. After that the pupils had to hand in their devices until the end of the school day and this meant that vulnerable and lonely pupils had no hiding place during break time.

This applies to all of us. We hide behind our mobiles to avoid contact, to protect our space and above all to look busy. I have been in many situations where I feel alone and awkward (conference mingle parties for example) and, as camouflage for my insecurity, I take out my mobile and pretend to be busy since it's much more acceptable than standing there looking lonely and bored. We live in a society where being busy gives you status and doing nothing is seen as weakness or laziness. So we fill our empty spaces with pretend activity, like checking our mobiles. In the past we hid behind newspapers or books, again giving the impression of doing something valuable. I remember commuting by train in a sea of newspapers every morning just as today's commuters are all immersed in their mobiles. It doesn't matter what you do there, a game, cat photos, scrolling down your Twitter feed, but the point is that you could be doing something important. I'm not bored or lonely, I'm answering important mails or reading brushing up my project management skills. 

We search our mobiles for some kind of contact, recognition or reassurance that we can't find in the physical space. Of course we can see them as distractions and substitutes for real life interaction but they also have a therapeutic value and offer us shelter from an often harsh reality. Simply banning them is schools can have unexpected side effects.


  1. So true! And what does this do with our personal interactions? Do we ever expose us to being vulnerable? And if not, do we miss out on something? Some learning experiences...?

  2. Indeed and very true, but in this case it's about hiding from threatening or uncomfortable situations The quote from the pupil shows how the mobile allows him/her to hide from the gaze of bullies. Sometimes we need a shield.