Suburban Mom Fears Technology!

I'm thinking about technology and all the ways that I avoid it.

I’m thinking about technology and all the ways that I avoid it.

My memories of my youth fondly include:  a curly phone cord that I twisted as I talked to a cute boy on the phone, an answering machine that I ran toward while throwing off my coat and books, a clunky and unreliable VCR, listening to the radio while waiting for my favorite song-then diving for the tape recorder when I heard the first few notes, my beloved Sony Walkman used for playing the aforementioned cassette tapes, games that didn’t require software and -get this- a full encyclopedia set on the shelf (for when my parents said, “Look it up”). Coming from this kind of background (I didn’t lay my hands on a computer until my second year of college), technology and I have had a tenuous relationship.  I love that I can prop up my I-Pad cookbook-style to follow a recipe, but I miss when you could watch the Sound of Music only once a year, making it’s viewing as sweet as the apple pie that accompanied it’s broadcast on Thanksgiving night.

Education and technology writer Mark Prensky calls people like me “digital immigrants,” struggling to understand and keep up with the new land of computers, video games and the like.  My eleven year old is a “digital native,” having been born into this culture of technology.  She far surpasses my abilities in digital gaming and we are about neck and neck in computer know-how.  Probably tomorrow she will stride past me, creating websites and editing her 5th grade online yearbook with ease.  As an immigrant,  my sentimentality for the past makes me seem like a dinosaur to her.  She still can’t fully grasp that there was no Google when I grew up.  It is quite literally beyond her comprehension.  And I admit it, it really pisses me off when she confidently shows me how to do something on the computer.  I mean, I’m the one who is supposed to know more than her, so WTF?

In suburbia, I can’t help feeling a little judgmental when I see a fellow parent allowing a child to play with a phone or an I-Pad at a restaurant.  How many of you have heard or thought, “their brains will turn to mush…”  If so, Hanna Rosin’s recent article for the Atlantic called The Touch Screen Generation will go a long way to putting your mind at ease.  Brain researchers have concluded that watching television or playing on a tablet will not in fact put your child’s brain to sleep. Their brains remain active and engaged, especially when watching shows like Dora because there are pauses and ways to interact.  Of course, there is also controversy that technology deprives your brain of necessary downtime and makes us more prone to distraction.  And by the way, if you see me handing my child my phone to entertain them while in line at the post office, well, that is absolutely fucking okay.

There are a host of things that I would like to learn and do using technology:

  • improve the look and feel of this blog:  expand the sidebar, making layout more eye-pleasing etc.
  • actually uploading and organizing my photos online.  For real.  I mean it.
  • using Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram.  Like cool people do.
  • putting my favorite recipes onto my I-Pad, thereby making myself an actual chef.
  • at work, using my computer instead of my pen for progress notes.  Okay, this probably won’t happen.
  • pingbacks, widgets, #, @, permalinks, CSS, HTML:  it’s all fucking Greek to me.

Even my friends who are just five years younger than me are more adept at technology.  They can share a photo on Facebook faster than the speed of light!   I STILL cannot figure out why I get posts from some people and not from others.  I mostly avoid Facebook now, it just seems like too much work.  When I was in high school, instead of posting photos, we exchanged actual photos after we went to the photo booth in the mall and got them developed from actual film.  Cutting our graduation photos from huge sheets was the shit back then.  There were photos that said PROOF on them and you had to wait like a month to get them.

Now, I am fully aware that there is a lot to embrace about technology.  My calendar is now fully on my phone and computer which makes my life out and about much easier.  Blogging flexes my writing muscle (though I still use a pen and notebook in my writing group).  Having fought it initially, texting is hugely fun and effective when you want to chat but are spending time with the family.  Because of a three hour time difference, emailing friends and family is often easier than calling.

But…

For me,  I worry about a new generation not getting enough time outdoors.  About not moving their bodies enough.  About technology making decisions for us and not developing our own ability to problem solve.  About the energy that comes from simply being with another person being lost.  About not getting the quiet and silence in our lives that all humans need.  About the loss of community. And selfishly, I worry about getting left behind in a world that is moving so damn fast.  And so I resist, pushing against the inevitable when really I should be giving it a big hug.

What is your relationship with technology?

Technology isn't going anywhere.

Technology isn’t going anywhere.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood Mama photos.  She has been known to stand on tables to get a good shot.  I’ve seen her do it.

I know, yet another bastardization of the Keep Calm quote...

I know, yet another bastardization of the Keep Calm quote…

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My Phone, My Self

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.