I imagine never in human history since the creation of language has humanity been more connected, and at the same time we are endangered of being the most disconnected than ever in history. To be able to speak into the air, “Call Kelli,” and instantly I’m conversing with my niece halfway across the world in Germany is a capability which a mere 25 years ago was the stuff of science fiction. When I was growing up in the 1980s, when we left school classmates were given a break from each other until the start of the next school day. Today we don’t really ever get away from each other as we follow each other on social media, text, video chat and emails. While we are more connected with the other side of the planet, our coworkers, and our friends and family in some ways, we cannot escape the law of physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The reaction to being more connected in the virtual world is less connection in the real world. More connection to people interacting with me on a device means I have less attention to offer people living in the same house as me or sitting at the same table as me or even sleeping in the same bed as me.
When TV became a standard appliance in every home there was a lot of concern about how it would affect family and interpersonal connection in the home. However, the doomsday expectations never really panned out. In fact, most families found shared experiences by finding shows they enjoyed together. Some of my fondest family memories involve those favorite shows (Hee Haw and Magnum P.I. come to mind). One of my favorite Christmas visits with my family as an adult was when we all got hooked on season 2 of the show 24 and watched all 24 episodes together in a time span of 4 days. I believe that as we face similar concerns about family and connection in modern day developments in technology, we have the opportunity to learn from our history.
Just like TV time shared together increased family interaction, so can virtual technology. Parents, instead of not giving your child a cell phone, how about teaching them early on how to responsibly use a cell phone by increasing interaction with family and not isolating themselves from family. Teach them to befriend family on social media, text and video chat with family, keep a group chat with the family going so everyone can keep track of what’s happening with Aunt Cindy’s trip to Niagara Falls and how did grandpa’s biopsy turn out and keep supplying mom with pictures of her grandbabies.
It takes a lot of self-discipline to handle a smart phone responsibly. We have to have the self-discipline to engage with others in the room when it’s time to engage and not be lost in the device during those times. This is a skill we are not likely to learn without accountability with others. This is an accountability we can invite all family members into – children can keep mom and dad accountable and vice versa. Technology is here. Isolating ourselves and our children from it is not the answer. Coming together to evolve responsibly is wisdom.