A few different experiences this month have gotten me thinking about technology. First of all, I got a Kindle for Mother’s Day from my dear husband (who knows I frequently juggle three books at a time and that this would be an ideal gift). Also, I received a handwritten thank you note from a friend. And then, while visiting my new niece and looking through some new baby items on Amazon, I spotted a plastic thing-a-ma-bob that attaches to the stroller which holds the I-phone. Not for mom. For the kid. To play games. Really?
When my mom found out I had gotten the Kindle, she said thickly, “just don’t turn your back on books.” The emotion in her voice was palpable. Upon receiving the thank you note, I instinctively picked up the card and smelled it. From it wafted the essence of my friend’s home: delicious food, a blossom-y fragrance and the unmistakable love of a friend. While gazing at the I-Phone baby holder, I wondered what that toddler will be missing while she plays her games: a vibrant red rose, the pluck pluck of a bunny pulling up some grasses and the smiles and gazes of passers-by who appreciate the pudgy beauty of toddlerhood. People of a certain age, and I am one of them, worry that technology is making us negate these precious things in life. But maybe I am just getting old.
Sherry Turkle is a Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT. She just wrote a book called “Alone Together.” If you don’t understand the title, just think about the last time you saw a group of teenage girls at the mall and they are all staring down at their phones. Got it? Ms. Turkle thinks a lot about these things and has come up with some pretty controversial but thought provoking ideas. She says that people who are using Facebook or even texting are “hiding from each other.” We present our best, most funny and cleaned up selves for public view. We control the message. But in reality, life is messy and demanding, she says. And we may be doing ourselves a huge disservice by not showing each other who we really are, warts and all. Well, in my case, it’s zits. Fucking perimenopause.
But my biggest worry, of course, is my kids. Yours too. Ms. Turkle says that discreet bits of information that come from texting or email are not sufficient to really get to know another human being. Especially when they are blasted to all their “friends.” We as humans learn how to be our own selves through conversations with other people. Remember mirror neurons from a post way back? And when we deprive ourselves of face to face connection, we subsequently lose our ability to self reflect, which for children, is an essential developmental skill. When a child has their head in a video game for hours on end at a party, I always wonder who they could have had a conversation with that might have made their day. I wonder if this generation will view technology as their closest friend, which strikes me as unbearably lonely. Ms. Turkle suggests that parents build in alone time for their children. Being alone, cultivating the capacity for stillness and reflection, is what builds the foundation for going out into the world and making friends. Because only in stillness can you know who you really are.
If you watch Ms. Turkle’s TED talk, you can scan the comments from twenty-somethings who say that they have grown up with technology, they have made friends using it, gotten jobs with it, and made altogether wonderful lives in spite of it. Are they full of shit? I don’t know. Jill Kerr Conway’s words ring in my ears, “A child has to live in her generation.” Look at what they said about the Beatles. And they were awesome! At the risk of being a fuddy-duddy, I still worry. That our kids won’t know how to make proper eye contact, do stupid things and have it forever documented on Facebook, text and drive, miss out on meaty conversations, feel connected to technology and simultaneously feel utterly alone, become people who spout but don’t listen and maybe even have family dinners where no one talks.
Okay, I admit it. I panic when I don’t have my phone. I play with it when I am with other people. I do occasionally talk on the phone while I am driving. When my friend Beth sends me a text from across the country that she loves me, it feels almost as good as if she were next to me and giving me a squeeze. If you look at my phone, you might get a pretty good idea of the kind of person I am from the apps I have, the notes I keep, the photos it contains and other information. But you would not know me. Because my phone is not me, nor is my computer or my Kindle or this blog for that matter. (But, yey, thanks for reading!). If you want to know me, you can find me in suburbia, at a coffee shop or a pub. Talking and laughing with my friends or family. Or at home, sharing a family dinner. Or in community at yoga and various other locations. I will be there, being vulnerable, listening, feeling and looking at you. Face to face.