“Kids today can sit on their phones for hours, not even saying a word.”

The problem is merely the choice of verb and its modifiers, but the image for the reader is something else again. My own phone is smallish and flat, but still I think sitting on it would be sufficiently uncomfortable that I would not want to do it for hours, and if I tried to sit on it for hours I am sure I would have some words to say, most of them unpublishable.

Of course I knew what my student meant: he meant “kids today can sit staring at their phones for hours…”

Generally I expect that when people sit silent for hours they are thinking (do we still say “lost in thought”?). When I’m really thinking, I stare into space, or doodle meaningless and badly drawn shapes, faces, embellished words…. Yes, I am silent. I come back from these mental excursions with a decision, or a plan, or a tentative idea, or an explosive expression of frustration.

When I sit for hours staring at a screen (my computer screen—I’m too penny-wise to do much on my phone other than talk), I may start with a thought or question but generally then embark on a mildly interesting wander-by-click through loosely related sites, stopping from time to time to join in some emotion-laden exchange of “comments” or take some silly algorithm-driven “quiz” or loop back to feed my dog on “Criminal Case,” ending suddenly with the realization that hours have passed and I have no idea how or why. That, I presume, is the kind of “sitting” my student had in mind when he wrote this sentence.

And he was lamenting that kind of sitting, as do I.

Now, some long-term silent-sitting-on-things can be productive. I’m thinking of the mourning dove currently nesting in the rose vines along my porch roof (I can see her from my window right now). She and her spouse take turns, exchanging their dove whoo-OO hoo hoo hoo only during that process. This is the second year I’ve had mourning doves nesting in this spot, which is hugely popular. Over the last seven years I’ve had two robin couples, one of whom raised four wonderful kids and the other of whom lost their eggs to a night raider; one cardinal couple, nesting on their tiny straw saucer and raising three lovely babies; two couples of house finches, one of whom last year crafted an amazing apartment for a clutch of kids, the other of whom (could it have been the same ones?) moved into it at the beginning of this season to raise a clutch; and three years ago the other mourning dove pair. Doves lay two or even three clutches a season, usually in different nests; but this season the happy couple settled back into their original nest two days after the second little squab took wing. With each of these families, I have been moved by their trust, their patience, their tolerance of us and friends (and mail carriers and delivery guys) in our comings and goings, their care of eggs and babies, and the emptiness we feel at their departure.

Anyway, I have to thank my student for launching me on a train of thought that brought me to my own study window and the sweet bird outside. How can she be comfortable sitting on two eggs? How can she be comfortable once the eggs hatch into wiggly, beaky, demanding little critters tucked up under her body? I suppose she tolerates it because it’s only once or twice a year and because she is participating in the perpetuation of her species. I’m sure she knows that…

Students surfing other people’s selfies, sending texts (and tweets!), playing games, reading random stuff, are probably not perpetuating the species or giving anyone else much joy. So I wish my student had said what he meant. What he wrote launched me on a brief but hilarious contemplation of kids sitting like nesting birds on their phones, certainly not comfortable, possibly expecting something to hatch. What a contrast to actual birds, and to the students he actually was trying to describe!


Sitting on two eggs must be more uncomfortable than sitting on a cell phone, but SHE manages to do it for hours, not saying a word. A better bird than I! Image: alexsvirid/shutterstock.com

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

25 responses to ““Kids today can sit on their phones for hours, not even saying a word.”

  • KokkieH

    I’m guessing your student was probably aiming at the more common expression of being “on the phone”. The “sit” was an unfortunate addition, though.

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    At first glance I wondered if the essay was about college girls at a bar with their phones in back pockets – who can talk with that music level…body language would be important…oh, and texts, so phones not in pockets for long.
    Word sloppiness and confusion seems to be rewriting word definitions.How will I keep up and avoid being confused and using the wrong meaning which used to be the right meaning?
    Need some soothing dove therapy.

    • RAB

      Come to my house; the dove will look calmly at you, and her spouse will Whoo-OO at you from the nearby shrub, and you will feel peace!

      • philosophermouseofthehedge

        We have a lovely neighborhood flock, too. Not sure where they nested this year, but the small ones came to the sheltered lantana bush area for dinner and flight school. We actually saw one land, swing upside down on the branch and hang there looking totally confused for a bit.

        • RAB

          It’s the best show going, isn’t it?

        • philosophermouseofthehedge

          It is. We had to take down the feeder. There’s plenty of food right now with the fig tree, the palm dates, the lantana, the veggie gardens…But mainly because it began to feel like we were setting up a buffet for hawks with so many of the doves sitting in a straight line all along the fence right across a clear flyway. They are better off foraging in the bushes. HArder to spot, but still cooing.

        • RAB

          Right you are. In our yard, too, the bird feeder seems to be in danger of becoming the hawk-feeder…. We clap and yell, but at least one of the hawks who sometimes drop by is not at all fazed–there’s actually a look of condescending contempt in his eye, I believe! We try to fill the feeder at hours when no hawks have yet chosen to visit. Luckily, we also have some faithful blue jays who are excellent hawk alarms, and all the birds listen to them!

  • scarlettmorrison10

    Great analogy haha! But what a shame that kids of this generation do in fact spend so much time sat staring at their phones as opposed to enjoying the outdoors such as the birds you described

    • RAB

      So glad you enjoyed it. Yes, at one campus where I used to teach there was a pond that attracted many species of ducks and wading birds. I commented one morning on that, and the students seemed surprised 1) that there were birds and 2) that I cared. So I said I would give extra credit to anyone who came to class in the next week with the names of three species of any birds at the pond. No one made the effort!

  • charuvilokare

    This is so true! It makes me think of my life, and how I should certainly prioritise my time instead of whiling away my time. A lot more people like you need to awaken the youth! Thank you!

    • RAB

      I spend too much time on my computer, too. But a lot of my students tell me they are NOT COMFORTABLE speaking with one another face-to-face; they would rather text. That I find very scary. So much is said without words by the tone of voice, the expression in the eyes, the touch of the hand….they’re giving all that up. We have to fight that!

  • georgiamuxlow

    I’ve just figured out what this blog is really about, I love it. Although my English is really horrible. This blog reminds me so much of my English teacher 😬

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