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I was working at my favorite Starbucks the other day, a place that allows me to focus and concentrate without the distractions at home.  Okay, I admit it.  Starbucks also provides me a clean table to work at without having to organize my own clutter.  (Where to put it???)  Starbucks also allows me to look around for distraction when I need a break from concentrated work.

While taking a break the other day, I watched a mom and her five children at a nearby table.  There was a babysitter too, thankfully, as it looked like the kids were one year apart at the most: 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 year olds gathered around a table.  The mom was trying to manage some problem, making a few phone calls, stepping to the side to accomplish something or other.  The babysitter, however, was busy… scrolling intently on her phone.

The one year old, in her high chair, was looking around the table, trying to connect and make eye contact with someone, anyone.  At one point, the babysitter looked up, yelled at the 2 year old for getting crumbs on the table and not eating over her napkin, only to return to scrolling on her phone.  The 3, 4 and 5 year olds began a sword fight with straws near the napkin station.  Finally the two year old got up and paid attention to the baby.

This is what a baby looks like when someone is paying attention. Eye contact. Simple

This is what a baby looks like when someone is paying attention. Eye contact. Simple.

My awesome sister, Teresa, recommended some seriously excellent summer reading.  Teresa always spends her summer with books that will fuel her teaching in the fall.  This year, the game-changing book was Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle.  (Click here to get it on Amazon.)

The author, Sherry Turkle, is not the type to say that technology is evil.  In fact, she is the opposite: an early adopter of all-things-technology. She even admits to sleeping with her cellphone.  What Turkle argues, however, is that technology is controlling our lives.  She advocates that we turn that around, and take back control of our technology.  It’s a matter of asserting authority, really,

Turkle also points out how parents usually complain loudly about their children spending too much time with screens.  Some parents in response institute a “no cell phone” policy at dinners.  Turkle then reveals the sad truth: it is the parents who are usually the ones to violate their own policy, checking their phones during the “no cell phone” dinner.

Turkle also writes of small children playing in parks, looking back for parental reactions, only to find the parent’s head directed down at a screen.  We see it almost everywhere: busy parent multitasking at a soccer game, in the supermarket, at the local pizza place.

The exact situation I observed at Starbucks.


I am positive I have done the same.

Be it resolved: I will walk away from my phone, and have conversations with live humans around me.  I will have dinner without my phone.  I will carve out phone-less time each and every day.

Sherry Turkle also did a TED talk, if you don’t have time to read her book: Click here to watch.  I do recommend the book – it’s worth the read, and a real wake up call to all of us.

About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!


  1. I love your writing Claire! Timely!!

    • Claire Ziamandanis

      Read the book – it has so much more than just that image now stuck in my head of that beautiful baby casting about for anyone to just look and smile! The author talks about how we now fill every spare moment glancing at the screen – in grocery store check out lines, at stop lights, etc. By not allowing ourselves to have boring moments, we also deny our brain the time to think creatively, to imagine, to have ideas bubble up. She also talks about the effect on the younger generation, the so called FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, as well as the Tinder sort of swiping, hoping for something better to come along. They swipe aside possible friendships and relationships because first impression says “Nah, you can do better.” They go to parties and text friends to be sure they are not missing a better party. How present can you be at a party or in a relationship if you are constantly wondering if there is better out there? It’s a GREAT book, and more of a warning to make sure we run our technology’s life instead of the inverse relationship.

  2. So True….Going to get worse and worse as well

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