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MARTHA MUZYCHKA: A nod of thanks to the cereal boxes that kept me reading

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Remember when we sat down to eat and didn't immediately check our phones? - 123RF Stock Photo

My sister-in-law shared something funny a few days ago: a meme found on social media, depicting a young boy scarfing down a bowl of breakfast cereal.

Actually, it wasn’t the eating that was funny: it was the intent gaze the little boy gave the back of the cereal box.

The caption: “Back when we read the cereal box in the morning and not some tablet or smartphone.”

“That was me,” my husband remarked, who totally got his sister’s message.

And, for the record, so did I.

Like him, I read anything I could in the morning. I dragged a paperback to the table, or maybe it would be newspaper. Or a magazine that was left on the counter. Or … well, anything, like the cereal box.

I still read every morning at breakfast, and yes, I’ll admit it: I often read on my phone. I usually have at least one novel going on my book app, and I get my first news fix (and second, and third) via the phone as I am puttering around.

And, now that I think about it, I’ll still read the back of a cereal box.

I was among that generation that got used to bilingual labelling, even as young Canadians were learning French. (Raise your hand if you thought “old fort cheese” was a particular variety of, well, fromage.)

As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of reading. There’s a photo of me as a young girl, not long after I had been prescribed a pair of glasses in which the lenses were more like Coca-Cola bottle bottoms than the sleek things I now enjoy. I was pages deep into my latest read, and extremely resistant to anything that would pull me away from what I really enjoyed.

When my husband shared that meme on Facebook, we noticed a lot of people related to it. Those of us with a passion for reading — and without the distraction of the phones — would indeed find a cereal box entertaining or informative. One remarked it reminded her of a time “when people used to read cereal boxes and eat at the table.”

Ouch. But, she has a point.

It also spoke to why I find it unsettling when I see so many people — and yes, that includes our own family on occasion — gazing at their phones when they sit down to eat in public. A while back, I noticed that pretty much every table in a restaurant had at least one person focused only on the screen. At a few, everyone had their phone out.

They could have been texting each other, for all I know!

It’s enough of a treat to go somewhere nice to eat; it seems inconsiderate to ourselves, not to mention each other, that we make secondary the people we care for. The funny thing is I rarely use my phone during a business meeting, unless it’s material to what we’re doing or we need to check our calendars to confirm future meeting dates.

I want to be better at resisting that infernal tug to check the phone. I have often described it as an electronic leash and it’s begun to chafe. I resent that I feel compelled to just take a quick look. 

Two years or so, Apple confirmed that its users check their phones an average 80 times a day, and that some users are checking in as many as eight times an hour. Which, when you think about it, means they’re probably off their phones less than they’re on it.

So, in the knowledge that it’s never too late to make a resolution for the rest of the year, I’m determined to be better for me and my family.

I resolve to keep my phone in the pocket at the dinner table. Or, better, in the charging station. If we’re in a restaurant, I commit to look only at my phone if I’m alone. I’ve extended the challenge to my family so we will see what happens!

Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s. Email:

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