I recently reached out to a number of parents, six to be exact, about my concern for our children and what personal technology is doing to their minds, moods, behavior, relationships, and just about everything else. Specifically, I pointed out what I witness: the constant need for distraction, relating to the device rather than the person they are with, chronic fear of missing out on what might be happening on the device, continual posting of selfies (often in lieu of enjoying the experience they are posting), the need to be entertained by several things at once (nothing being enough), intolerance for boredom, disinterest in their own company, the relentless search for something external to satisfy, anxiety and irritability (addictive symptoms) when deprived of personal technology, an increase in creative passivity (the loss of ability to generate something out of nothing)… and the list goes on.
In my communication with these parents, I suggested that we establish agreed upon limits on the technology, “time out” periods that would be the same for everyone in their tight group of friends. This way, none of the children would feel they were missing out on something when they were off technology, as everyone’s else’s phones would also be dark. I also recommended that we open a dialogue and create a united front on this issue, as the grown ups in this life situation, the ones in charge, perhaps to talk about what we can do to help our children develop the skills to be well in a world that is teaching them to be absent from where they are, absent from themselves, and to need perpetual entertainment just to be okay. What I wrote to the parents of my daughter’s friends was really a plea to take this issue seriously, to employ our greater wisdom and experience as adults and not allow our children to disappear into the virtual vacuum–to step in and protect our children’s ability to live in the present moment—the basis of all wellbeing.
I sent out six pleas. How many responses did I receive back? Zero.
I write a lot about personal technology and invariably, every time I do, I receive a similar comment in the feedback. The comment, boiled down, is this: technology is here to stay; get over it or learn to live with it. The fact that technology is here to stay is probably true, but the idea that we should get over or learn to live with it, regardless of what it is doing to us, to me, sounds like glorified passivity. The reality that not one parent responded to my note sounds like we have settled back into a kind of hopeless acceptance of where we are heading. Does the fact that technology is here to stay mean that we should allow our children and ourselves to disappear into a distracted unconsciousness?
The fact that technology is here to stay is precisely why we need to pay close attention to and make real choices about how we want to live with it and teach our children to live with it. As the human beings who are using this technology (not the other way around), we need to decide and enact how we want to incorporate technology into our lives, not just accept whatever is happening because it’s happening. Our purpose should be to take care of our own wellbeing, and not just assume that if we surrender, technology will protect our wellbeing. Learn to live with it should really read, learn how you want to live with it. We can’t and shouldn’t be passive, not when what’s at stake is how we live and who we are.