I read this from the very awesome Cath Jenkin with interest. I view Cath as one of the wisest, most honest bloggers in the local parenting space and often our ideas correlate or cross over. But this time, not completely – so I decided to explore the topic in writing myself, and post it in response.
Now I know that Cath and her Cam are book lovers of note. So this is not aimed at YOU my friend, it’s just about me, my experience with the impact of digital stuff on my family, and my own prejudices 😉
To start, let me be honest.
When I see a child being palmed off with a tablet or phone so adults can talk without interruption, or when I see a kid left in front of mindless cartoons for hours while adults sit on Facebook, or when I see parents at the park on their phones, ignoring their child who wants them to watch while they slide or swing, I judge.
I’m not proud of this judge-iness but it’s there. And I need to deal with it. But underneath here’s how I feel. I want to grab that device from the child and offer a book or paper and crayons; I want to encourage the child at the restaurant table to participate in the conversations (unless age inapproriate) so they can also form ideas, voice opinions, learn to wait their turn, learn the art of conversation. I want to say – your child is only little for a short time. Put away your phone and get off your ass and play with her. Or at least watch her when she wants to show you her latest accomplishment.
We have no TV in our home. My son has limited computer time, which I relax a little when he’s on holiday and I’m working, or there’s a friend over and they want to game together. He’s 16, and like most teens has a Facebook account and spends a fair amount of time on Whatsapp. I have a step daughter who is also on Facebook and BBM and Twitter on her phone as much as she can be. I love social media, it’s part of my job and my life. I use Google for everything from recipes to yoga routines. My husband is hooked on YouTube.
When he was younger, Raph read all the time. We read together long after he could read alone. Like Cam, he would opt for reading over gaming often. But as time passed and we all got smartphones and he got onto social media, things changed.
And one day I started noticing how often the following scenarios play out in our lives:
- We’ll all be sitting on our own devices in the same room without talking.
- The one thing we will talk about is ‘Hey, look at this video / pic / status.’
- More and more conversations started with ‘I saw this thing online’
- As soon as there was a lull in conversation, phones would be taken out
- When we didn’t have a series to watch on the PC in the evening we’d be stumped as to what to do until someone started searching YouTube for random crap to watch ad nauseum.
- Any time I was bored – in a queue, waiting for Raph at the station, waiting for dinner to cook – I’d gravitate straight to a screen. My ability to concentrate on anything longer than 2 paragraphs became non-existent.
- Kaira ‘s conversations became little more than reading out a ‘deep and meaningful’ quote from Pinterest, saying ‘That’s sooooo true’ then instantly forgetting it and reading the next one.
- I would become frustrated if I was up to see a beautiful sunrise but didn’t have my phone on me to Instagram it.
And I started to hate the way we were evolving, how much of our lives had become influenced by the online world.
Then one day last holiday Raph decided that he wanted to take a 3 month break from all social media and gaming. That he would swap out his Nokia Lumia for a ‘blockia’ that can only call and sms, that he would only use the PC for homework. No emails, no Whattsapp, no Facebook, no YouTube.
He told me, he’s never not had the internet and computers in his life and he wanted to find out who he was without Upworthy to tell him what to think about life issues, without talking to people in another room while ignoring the person in front of him. To actually do interesting things himself rather than read about other people doing interesting things and living vicariously through them.
This was not based on my own feelings which I hadn’t really expressed, but on him coming to a similar realisation himself. His friends either think he’s brave, nuts or committing social suicide, but many of them said they wish they could do the same (but they couldn’t survive).
Cath references the following quote in her blog post:
“…digital technology is offering a whole host of brand-new ways to bring families and friends closer together for happier relationships.”
Oh, I have family scattered across the globe; Kaira doesn’t live with us most the time, and my husband works off shore 6 months of the year – we love using social media and technology to keep in touch in real time.
But I don’t find the above quote t0 be true within the walls of our home.
I feel that technology is making us less intelligent – our ability to think critically is being undermined, our concentration spans are shrinking. We are so used to instant entertainment we forgo more creative pursuits. The way we talk, what we discuss and what we do has become limited.
In the 3 weeks since Raph went ‘off-line’ he and I have had at least 5 conversations that went on for hours, ranging from silly to emotional to healing. He has written more and read more than he had in a long time. He told me he feels more peaceful. It’s like he’s detoxing. It’s not always easy but he’s happier for it. Because he’s off line, I’ve spent more time off line after work too. I like us better with less of the constant presence of the internet, so much so that I’m looking into limiting our connectivity in the home – hell I’d love to have an Internet free home ultimately.
This has become long-winded and unwieldy. So I’ll end by saying, I don’t hate the internet – in fact I love many things it has brought into our lives. Fun, convenience, connecting with far away loved ones. But to me it has tainted and lessened and diluted real life too much for me to want to embrace it completely anymore. I want to step away from its all-pervasive presence and remember how it feels to live, love and breathe without it sometimes.