Bishop of Hereford's Article - Hereford Times 13/12/18

    Talking Points
    13 Dec. 2018

    I wonder if you read about the restaurant chain – Frankie and Benny’s – which has introduced a ban on mobile phones in order to try to make families talk to each other rather than be distracted by their phones.

    All of Frankie and Benny’s restaurants will now have “no-phone zones”. Free meals for children are being offered as incentives to customers to hand in their phones.

    This move follows research which found that 72 per cent of children wished that their parents spent less time on their mobile phones. According to the Times a survey found that “56 per cent of those aged between six and 16 said that they felt ignored by their parents and one in ten admitted to hiding a parent’s handset to get their attention.”

    The Times columnist, Janice Turner, responded to this news in an article headlined, “We’ve been turned into iPhone crackheads”. She wrote of her own reliance on her phone before describing the “clear association between length of time online and poor mental health”. “Social media,” she wrote, “feels like human contact yet it is hollow, empty, like gorging on doughnuts when you need the nourishment of real friends.” She quoted a former Facebook executive who said, “I am convinced the Devil lives in our phones.”

    In responding to this, I write as a hypocrite. I am as guilty as most – usually to look up cricket scores (which is, of course, fully justified …..). But there are serious aspects to Frankie and Benny’s actions. It’s hardly the most important thing that is happening in the country at the moment, but what Frankie and Benny’s have done is significant.

    • They challenge adults as to what example we are setting children. We, not the children, are the problem. I have often heard adults grumbling about the noise young people make in church – but it’s actually usually older people who disturb quiet moments by talking in stage whispers amongst themselves.
    • They encourage us to welcome technological developments without being ruled by them. Mobile phones, like much else, are brilliant servants but dangerous masters. Janice Turner writes, “Maybe it is time to admit phones rule our lives ………. I know I should look up from my moronic scrolling, concentrate on hard books, speak to my family.”
    • They remind us of the need to remember that really listening to others, and being listened to in return, is affirming and life-giving.

    Richard Frith, Bishop of Hereford.