Thursday, May 28

The changing face of our family values


IT is common nowadays to sit down at a local coffee shop and watch the way that family values have changed so very drastically in the last few years. I am talking about the interaction or lack thereof between youngsters and adults alike, which has happened within such a very short period of time.

It is a tragic and sad development which, if allowed to continue down this path, would spell an end to the way we have communicated with each other for time immemorial – the death of communication and a sense of family belonging and closeness as well as intimacy, and the death knell of dialogue between us all.

It greatly saddens me, and I am sure you as well, and my column this week seeks to expound and expose a little of what seems to be going on in our community, especially between family members as well as between good friends and acquaintances.

What has happened?

The combination of three forces in our modern everyday life along with fast advances in technology have led to this deteriorating state of affairs.

I fully blame the mobile phone and more so it’s current incarnation the smartphone, its status from being an expensive novelty communication tool, to being an easily available low cost necessity for all of us; with only a handful of extremely well disciplined and conservative citizens still holding on to either their old trusty Nokias or who have simply refused to be induced into carrying one at all.

The second advancement has been the swift spread of those communications towers and the speed of the internet, increased availability of data storage, and prolonged battery life, which has enabled us all to make the fullest use of these communication devices.

The third and final reason is of course the universal prevalence of social media, the supply of content and the ease with which even a child could learn and operate such devices and enable himself to be entertained or informed or be in communication with whatsoever and whomsoever he wishes to with just one click or swipe of his finger!

It’s all there – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Weibo, WeChat, WhatsApp, and whatever else we want.

Don’t get me started on the myriad games that we can play on this device as well!

The excellent camera feature too has spelt the end of the digital camera as we know it.

It’s an attention grabber and it is as addictive as any opioid known to mankind, in my opinion beyond just addiction. Just watch any child after you take away or forbid him from using his device, be it an iPad, or a smartphone.

At any social function, be it a simple breakfast gathering between friends or family members; to a happy hour drinks and chat session between work colleagues or old friends; to formal events at weddings and birthdays, anniversaries and official functions – what you see at the table are folks using their devices to text messages, check and answer their WhatsApp, and even to watch video clips on YouTube.

People just do not chat or talk or converse with each other anymore.

I am fairly certain that the kids of the future, the teenagers in 2025, the children being born right now and going to school in a few years’ time, they will lose their skills and abilities to talk to each other. Their social skills will be lacking in empathy towards their family and friends, and they might even lose sight of the fact that communication is two-way traffic.

Our children of the future will simply be voyeurs; watchers, listeners, and followers of what’s going on in the world of the internet, what’s trending on YouTube, and what’s being dished out as ‘factoids’ and semi half-truths in the world of medical advice, scientific discoveries, and historical facts.

Religion will be relegated to who have the most followers and whose teachings and ideologies are most aligned to personal beliefs and idiosyncrasies. Politics will be the biggest and most aggressively fought for ideology in this arena – many so-called public polls will be staged and manipulated and hucksters will outnumber the truthful and upright practitioners (some say there are none, or if any, very few of such people in this field of endeavour!)

I digress. Coming back to our family values.

There are still some traditionalists, sadly the minority. I was most happy and gratified to see this morning a filial son who had brought his elderly mother to the kopitiam I was at and was feeding her some porridge, lovingly and patiently. He only had his own cup of coffee. His elderly mother, probably in her 80s, was rather feeble and needed help walking. The entire time he was with her, he never once took out his smartphone, or checked on it, or used it. But neither was he very talkative to her either. But she seemed happy just to be there with her son.

I have also seen entire families seated down at a formal dinner, with no sign of any devices on hand or on the table, except for a couple of foodies who took quick snaps of the food when they had appeared. They all seemed to be happy to be void of their devices and were happily chatting, conversing, and energetically laughing and smiling away.

It’s a very rare sight these days.

As for me and my family, I make it a point to have a weekly family meal together, usually at home, or outside once in a while. When we are all seated it’s an unwritten rule that no one uses his smartphone or any device; the exception being at times, after he’s finished his meal, the grandson is allowed to watch his iPad (What are grandpas for?). Any and all calls or messaging can be done … but away from the table, and only briefly. Of course the only other exception is we’re allowed to take group photos as well as photos of the food!

I earnestly urge all of you to try and keep your family unit together, to try and cultivate a culture of family togetherness, and at least get together once a week, if not more often; if only to have a meal or an outing together. Make time for family. None of us are getting any younger; and we all need all the love and comfort that only family can bring.

Praise be to God if you are already doing it!


> Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]