Managing screen time

Smartphone use in the rural areas is increasing and causing problems, especially between couples.

Partners have been accusing each other of either having extramarital affairs or spending too much time on their phones using the mobile app, WeChat.

Some couples have even split as a result.

The problem is not limited to only at home. Even at zomdus or public meetings, people tend to spend more time looking at their screens than on the event.

At a recent event at a school to mark “parenting month”, some students complained that their parents were spending too much time on their smartphones, tablets, or TV. A few students even wished they were either technological devices or social media platforms so that their parents would pay more attention to them.

The smartphone, the internet, and WeChat has become ubiquitous in Bhutan.

Almost everyone, even those who may not be literate, are now on the internet.

This development was inevitable. In fact, in a way, it is useful to know that both urban and rural Bhutanese are online and can be reached in the case of some public services.

What is of concern though, is how much time we may be devoting to our online activities, especially if it is for questionable ones.

Just last week, a guide was arrested for distributing a pornographic clip on a WeChat forum. Clearly, that is an illegal activity requiring the law to intervene.

But what about using technology to gossip or flirt? Such activities may result in negative consequences but they are not illegal. We cannot ask people not to gossip or flirt online. If it’s not being done online, it will be done offline.

The problem, as many of us have already recognised, is not the smart phone, the internet, or WeChat. It is us.

Technology is only helping us do better, or more efficiently, what we have always done. As a result, the stream of entertainment has become more constant, available throughout the day, which can cause addictions.

In a sense, we’ve caught up with the rest of the world.

Other societies have faced the same issues and have reacted in their own ways.

In some countries, they have footpaths reserved just for those who like to walk while fiddling with their phones. In some, restaurants do not allow mobile phones to encourage their diners to look and talk at each other, instead of their devices.

While constant awareness raising is required by the government, in the end, it may come down to one’s personality when it comes to what you use technology for.

But personalities can be influenced and this can be achieved through the formal education system. We’re talking about instilling values so that, for instance, we don’t spread malicious gossip, both offline and online.

It is also about being the best role models for our children. If we’re on our screens all the time, sacrificing the little quality time you have with your family, then the likelihood of your children copy-pasting your habit, is higher.

We can educate ourselves on the pros and cons of technology, learn how to use it more productively, and set an example, for all those around us.

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