Be Present – Self-Regulation of Media Use

How not to let media use interfere with personal relationships

“Everywhere we go, we carry with us options far more enticing than the place and moment we happen to be standing within …”

This is a comment by Josh Pulman (cited in Maloney 2017) regarding his photography project, Somewhere Else, in which he captured images of people being together in shared public spaces yet in another space created by their own electronic devices – the result is a collection of pictures like this one:

(Source: Josh Pulman)

But we are no longer surprised by something like that, aren’t we? It has become the every day – media use, anywhere, any time.

On a macro level, media regulation generally refers to restrictions by the government, to control and mediate what is being shown to the public via channels such as television, radio, cinema, news press, etc. However, my focus in this post is on a micro level – and not just micro as in the company/business level, but self-regulation and media regulation in the family. 

The advent of the smartphone, as that of almost every electronic devices, has certainly reshaped numerous aspects of human relationships, including between family members. As pointed out by Hawi and Samaha (2017, p. 1047), there is significant correlation between family relations and excessive technology use in children and adults, and research over a long time (1976-2016) among teenagers in the US illustrated how there has been a sharp decline in the amount of time spent with their parents and a markedly rise in the feeling of loneliness, ever since the iPhone was first introduced (Twenge 2017, p. 60) (click on image for higher resolution)


But technology use is of course, not the evil force sabotaging out relationships (check out Reddit’s r/phonesarebad thread for some extremist view). At least not to my family.

Right up until a little more than a year ago, when I was back home in Vietnam (me in high school then freshman year, my little sister in middle school, and my parents working full-time in 9-5 office jobs), my family would have some hectic schedule from 6:30 in the morning all the way to 7 in the evening. I would be the first one to leave the house, even before anyone else woke up. And most week days, we wouldn’t see each other until dinner time.

Dinner time is always our best moment of the day. Dad would put the 7pm news on as background noise, and we would recount our day at school and at work. Gradually, as my little sister and I grew a little older, the chat would more than often turn into advice on aspects of life – growing up, getting a job, finding our SOs, social interactions.

The rule of thumb, was “no phones allowed”. Food out, phones away.


bcm241 MediaRegulation
(artwork by me)


I must say, the no-phones-allowed rule was the best thing that my family could have: it reinforced a brilliant habit of being mindful around loved ones, and appreciating the stories they tell and the advice they give. It is a reminder to us, that we should spend that time being at one place onlyno discussion with coworkers, no chit-chatting with friends, no getting our noses stuck in some other media spaces.

The interesting part is, since I came to Australia for uni, that golden rule was altered a little: no phones allowed, except for the one being used to talk to me. With the time difference of three/four hours depending on Daylight Saving Time (which I hate with a passion), dinner time for my family would be close to midnight for me. But there I still would be, in that tiny screen of Dad’s smartphone, recounting my day and listening to theirs.

And sometimes, Mom’s voice would come in from somewhere near the kitchen counter, out of frame, amazed at how for a moment she could actually believe that I have never left home, hearing my voice all clear from the speaker.

See, media use in homes is not all bad, isn’t it?

And dear me how I’m missing my family right now.

Mia (Minh-Anh)



Hawi, NS & Samaha, M 2017, ‘Relationships among smartphone addiction, anxiety, and family relations’, Behaviour & information technology, vol. 36, no. 10, pp. 1046-1052.

Maloney, S 2017, ‘Attention, presence and space’ PowerPoint slides, BCM241, University of Wollongong, viewed 18 September 2017.

Twenge, JM 2017, ‘HAS THE SMARTPHONE DESTROYED A GENERATION?’, Atlantic, vol. 320, no. 2, pp. 58-65.

Author: Minh-Anh Mia Do

book-smart and sugar-addicted || the written word & all things linguistics || email:

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