Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kinder and Gentler Gadget Use

I recently came across a column by Lewis D. Diuguid in the Kansas City Star entitled "Gadgets too often stop us from enjoying life." Mr. Diuguid recounted many moments in which he found tech  intrusive: a man distracted from being in the moment with his wife in the movie theater, checking emails on a smartphone; parents talking on the phone in the car, ignoring their children; board meetings where devices left open on the table make annoying noises announcing the arrival of new messages.

Writing about these constant interruptions and distractions, Mr. Diuguid asks that we "put them (devices) to the best possible use for ourselves, our families and this community." In other words, he wants us to stop and think before we take out a smartphone or other device when we are in a social setting.

So where do I stand on this issue? I love technology but Mr. Diuguid isn't wrong here, especially as he gently admonishes us to interact with each other in person as much as we can. I've run into these situations myself. Out with a group of friends I rarely see, a couple spent time distracted from conversation, checking for texts from their grandchildren. Out to dinner, one couple I know constantly takes calls from their children. On the beach, someone is always conducting business in a loud voice when others want to relax.

I recently had a conversation with a friend whose sister uses a DVD player and headphones to keep her child quiet during a restaurant meal. I remember and understand: children are a challenge in a restaurant. My own kids were quite high maintenance and we brought a bunch of toys and workbooks along to help them cope with what can be a long time sitting for a little one. However, we also talked to them. They remember the science starter questions we brought along with us and how my husband taught them math and reading while waiting for chicken nuggets.

At home,  I must say I wasn't above parking the kids in front of Sesame Street and yes, even Power Rangers and Ghostbusters when I was exhausted or was trying to get a bit of writing finished. But that wasn't all I did. I tried to engage my children, and I bet you did too.  How are children going to learn how to behave and carry on conversations with adults unless we go through the painful process of helping them learn?

I noticed that digital gadgets were isolating as soon as digital music players became popular and my teenage children had them. Now, when we took car trips, they wouldn't complain as much. However, car time was the time when we really talked. We played car games and interacted, and they got silly and it was fun. Now we had nothing but silence between us.

A friend of mine who still has a teenaged son, says his son doesn't go out to ball games with his friends. Nor does he go over other kids' houses to watch the game on TV. Instead he sits at home and watches alone, sometimes on TV, sometimes on some other device, but interacts with others during the game, texting. Is this isolating behavior? I really don't know. Something is changing in the way we interact with others.

And in some ways this change is very, very good. I've written before about how the iPad can help the isolated elderly and disabled keep in touch with others. It certainly helps me. I don't like to "sit on the phone" but I'll write a quick email to let someone know I've been thinking about them or I'll update my Facebook status to reach out to my extended network of friends. 

Everyone here knows that I am a big proponent of technology. There is nothing I like better than being able to download a book at a moment's notice, use GPS to find where I'm going, or consult Google to figure out an answer to a question I have.

However, as Mr. Diuguid reminds us, "gadgets come and go...What counts, what must endure are relationships we forge with one another."


Barb K. said...

I absolutely loved today's column. This is a prevalent issue and one we discuss all too often, as technology replaces face time.
I do love the way we all "keep up" on facebook, though I avoid it on a daily basis. I do like checking in and seeing how my relatives at a distance are doing, Ethan's engagement being a case in point! I can also see the staus of my daughters' days, funny pictures they post, and other little things that keep us in touch.
Jerry's computer on the kitchen table drives me insane, as does Amy's constant smart phone use in our company. But so often, they come up with some interesting information because the technology is right there in our faces.

I'm sure many people have "mixed blessing" feelings about this issue. It reminds me of when a friend's sister was doing her thesis in Scotand many decades ago. Just the television was determined to have ruined their social structure, as folks would stay at home at night instead of visiting in the corner pubs. (I wonder how the women felt about that!) So this is actually not a new issue, just a more widely spread one.

Thanks for the post. I really love these "conversations" with you. Let me know what other responses you get.

janice said...

I really enjoyed your column.
You write so well!
I wish you all the best in your new venture!