At seven o’clock every night in the Indian village of Vadgaon, inland from Mumbai, a siren sounds, urging people to engage in an age-old tradition.
It’s not a hooter to signal an imminent air attack, or a tsunami warning, or earthquake or volcano warning. It doesn’t even signal the start of a curfew, although it sort of does…
It’s the signal for residents to switch off their television sets, laptops and mobile phones and – wait for it – engage in conversation. The siren sounds again at 8:30 pm, letting jittery folk know they can return to their screens.
It’s a pretty drastic step, but village council leaders voted to introduce the measure to try and beat an addiction they felt was turning their community into glass-eyed zombies.
People of all ages – kids, parents, grandparents – were returning home after a day at the office, or school, and sitting down and staring at their mobile or laptop screens. Sound familiar?
Initially the proposal was met with derision, but now officials claim locals are rediscovering how much fun conversation can be.
In Canberra this week, ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said it was time for parents and carers to sit down and have an honest discussion with their teenagers about road safety.
On the weekend, two teenage girls were tragically killed in a car crash. The car was allegedly being driven by a 16-year-old now facing several charges.
Gaughan conceded it was hard these days to sit down and have a conversation with kids. He is scratching his head working out how the police can get important safety measures through to those in an age group generally more interested in updating their social media profiles than listening to anyone, and especially older people, banging on about how they should behave.
He has thought about making the police social media channels more cool, but doubts any amount of coolness will entice young folk to follow or like ACT police memes, Snapchat, TikTok or Instagram posts.
He said one option was to get more coppers back into the classrooms. Then, he said, there was a captive audience. It’s a flashback to the good old days when the local plods would come in and run through road rules, stranger danger and other important safety issues every child should know.
Of course it shouldn’t be up to the police to have these conversations with our kids. As parents we have a responsibility to prepare our children for the outside world. But now we hear complaints we’re all too time-poor to have these conversations, and we can’t get everyone off their screens for long enough to even talk about what’s for dinner.
If we learned anything from that tragic accident, it’s how fragile life is. I don’t know of any parent who doesn’t stress when their kids are out on their own. It doesn’t matter how much you trust them, or how well they’ve been brought up, it just takes one stupid action from one of their friends to cause problems.
So at the very least, don’t we owe it to our children, and their friends, to make sure we have these conversations?
And just like the residents of Vadgaon village, we might discover that sitting around having real conversations is actually enjoyable.
We might need to ring a cowbell or, God forbid, unplug the wi-fi to make it happen, but going cold turkey will be worth it.