Youngest has pals round, there’s occasional laughing and chat from her room, but when I drop by with a pile of her folded washing (for her to chuck on the floor, or put straight back in her laundry basket rather than put away I strongly suspect), I see all three of them in a row on her bed, faces down, illuminated by the glow of their phone screens.
“Hello,” I say to attract attention. And fail. I try again, “Do you not want to…” Youngest looks up and “play a game” dies on my lips. I go for “Why don’t you watch the same show online” instead.
“We’re in the same chat,” she says, looking down again and then all three laugh at something in unison and start tapping away, fingers flying furiously. Side by side they sit, typing messages to each other, and various other friends in bedrooms strung out across the capital. I’m still deciding whether this is a good or bad thing when I arrive in the kitchen, where Eldest sits at the table, holding a knife and fork, Desperate Dan style, on the off-chance of a fleeting between-meals snack. Aw, contact time with a child.
So I oblige, placing a plate of leftovers in front of him, and sit opposite as he eats. We talk as he wolfs, simultaneously tapping away at his mobile. This is allowed since it’s not an official family meal, at which he’s banned Youngest from using her phone. Snacks are different, apparently.
“Who’s that?” I say.
“Girlfriend.” He smiles at something on his screen.
“Aw, that’s nice. Would it not be better to phone her, actually speak to each other?”
“Nah, then you’ve got to say everything at once, and you forget stuff. Online you can go away and do something, watch something, then come back and say things.”
“Oh. Stream of consciousness,” I say...
“What? Yeah… No. It’s more we’re both online, having a conversation in real time, so we’re together.”
“Right. Like in the same place at the same time kind of thing?”
“A bit like us, now?”
Communication, it’s a beautiful thing.