I don’t use social media and of course I sometimes wonder if the cost is worth the benefit

It’s mostly comfortable for me to be away from my phone because I don’t use social media, which means that probably not much has changed since I last looked

My son sent that message an hour before I saw it, because I was busy making things and chatting

I was pottering around the kitchen, baking cookies and making dinner but also chatting to one son and sort of reading the paper in between, when I noticed I’d had a message from the other son. He’s officially and most of the time actually grown up, living on the other side of the country. We hadn’t heard from him in a few days, which isn’t unusual or worrying. The message said, “Hello Mum, am I vaccinated against tetanus?” It’s not the last thing you want to hear from your far-away offspring, but I’d say low on the list. “Not recently enough,” I replied, “what have you done?” Half an hour, no reply. I knew his phone would be silent but I called anyway. I tried not to send further messages. I failed but kept the tone light, “please provide further information at your earliest convenience. Or earlier.” “Any time now would be grand. Gardening, archaeology, animal bite?”

He trained us early and hard, that boy, disappearing for hours with his phone left at home, appearing surprised at our concern hours later. A friend who flies small aircraft used to say, aviate, navigate, communicate: keep the plane in the air, know where you are, tell someone about it. My older son is excellent at the first two (metaphorically, no aircraft involved so far or to my knowledge), and so his brother inherits parents far more resigned to the failure of the last than comes at all naturally.

The thing is, like most parenting woes, the apple fell near the tree. My son sent that message an hour before I saw it, because I was busy making things and chatting. I silence my phone to teach or at the beginning of a film and then it takes me days to notice and turn it back on, and by then it’s time to teach again so there’s not much point. Some of my friends have similar relationships with their phones, and though I’m mildly frustrated by how long it takes to make plans with them, I also know that when we meet our phones will stay in our bags, or at home, and we’ll be fully present with each other. As my sons have taught me, you can’t be here and somewhere else at the same time.

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It’s mostly comfortable for me to be away from my phone because I don’t use social media, which means that probably not much has changed since I last looked. There might be a message from a friend. There probably will be email but most of it’s not interesting and little of it is time-sensitive; I deliberately don’t have work email on my phone and my interesting personal email is long correspondence with distant friends, usually composed over a few days, old-fashioned letters in digital form. I know that it’s a privilege and a luxury to be able to arrange things this way.

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Unlike my last employer, my current one doesn’t require email to be answered within four hours and as long as the work is done I have a high degree of control over when and where I do it. But of course there is a cost to not using social media, especially for someone with an element of freelance work, and of course I sometimes wonder if the cost is worth the benefit. Would I have more invitations to more events if I were visible on X and Instagram and Facebook? Maybe. Would I sell more books? Probably not, according to my publishers who have known my position from the beginning. Would I know more about the lives of distant friends? Some of them, yes, though whether that knowledge would make us closer than the one-to-one correspondence and conversations I cherish instead I don’t know.

I do know, from observation, that I don’t want to see the world through the lens of a phone, don’t want to be so busy recording and sharing and “making memories” that I can’t be where I am, here and now. And therefore I accept that my sons make the same choice, and sometimes I spend an evening worrying while they are too present in their own times and places, aviating and navigating their own lives, to communicate.