Charlie and I were in Costco last weekend, sharing an ice cream in the dining area before heading out to the car. A few tables over sat a middle aged man and an elderly man, quite possibly father and son. The younger of the two was staring down at his phone, while the older man watched people passing.
Charlie asked me, “Do you think, if this was ten years ago, those two would have been sitting there talking to each other?”
I’m not sure the answer to that. Maybe, before the time of smart phones, they would have been having a deep, connecting conversation. Or maybe they would have both been people watching in silence. Or maybe they would have been arguing about what movie they were going to see. Maybe that is what the guy was doing on the phone – checking movie times so that he could surprise his elderly father with an afternoon matinee. Maybe.
I think it is difficult to say how much smart phones and social media and all new technology have really changed who we are. There is no doubt that it has changed our lives, making them easier and harder at the same time. But, how much has new technology changed who we are as people and how we relate to each other? And is that change always such a bad thing?
It is true that many young people (and older people) often have their heads pointed at a screen. But, through that screen, they can see other parts of the world. They can see their faraway grandparents’ faces. They can text their mother to say that they will be home soon.
My 14 year old son discusses Syria with me because he has been reading about it on a news app.
My 10 year old daughter has an Evernote account where she is making notes about our upcoming Ireland trip from the research she is doing on Trip Advisor (No, that apple did not fall far from this tree.)
My 16 year old daughter is sharing inspiration with her fellow AP Art classmates and teachers on Pinterest.
And after that 16 year old goes off to college in a couple years, she will be able to help her little sister pick out a homecoming dress over Facetime or Skype.
Sometimes change does not have to represent the downfall of society. Sometimes change is just different and takes little getting used to.
Always, change is inevitable.
I often hear and read about the hit our communication skills have taken, about the curse of the screen on our children’s generation. I’m beginning to tire of the “When We Were Kids” memes I see on Facebook. Maybe things were simpler before. Unless you were trying to search for a job or pay bills or renew your library books or do a research paper or make a presentation or plan a vacation. Or post a meme on Facebook.
I know that the fierce and rapid onslaught of new technology has taken a toll on the way things used to be. I know that this has happened more quickly than many people were ready for. I would even contend that this “progress” has happened faster than any other “progress” in recent history. My generation went from having rotary dial telephones on party lines to computers in our pockets in the blink of an eye. My children’s generation will never know a time when there was no internet. Yes, this change, this progress, has been lightning fast. It has struck hard and bright, right up in our faces.
When you stop to think about it, we are all relatively new at this. It is going to take a while to iron out the kinks, to determine what works best for our families, to learn how to maintain reasonable control over our online presence and that of our children, to figure out our place in the balance between private and public. These words carry new meanings now. They will be defined even differently by our children as they grow into adults.
My children’s understanding of the world will forever be influenced by the presence of smart phones, tablets, and social media, just as my generation will be the last to remember a time before such things existed.
We can argue about the benefits vs. cost of progress. We can lament the supposed loss of interpersonal communication skills. We can pine away for the days before. But it does no good. It serves no purpose.
I am not proposing that we all allow unlimited screen time or that we ignore our teenagers’ social media usage. But, perhaps we do need to recognize the presence of technology and the internet for what it is – prominent and permanent.
It is here to stay. It is up to us – each of us, as individuals and as parents – to decide how we will use it and what limits we will place upon it within our homes. I will support you while you figure it out. I ask the same of you.