Almost exactly two years ago I wrote a “motivator” that described a scene I spotted in Central Park that,twenty-three and a half months later, still breaks my heart… There was an adorable little person sitting in her stroller (probably about two and a half) talking a mile a minute to her mommy (with all the animation and energy of a budding storyteller) who was not looking or listening. In fact, she was texting what seemed to be a lengthy message on her smartphone. Eventually, the little girl just stopped talking, giggling and waving her hands around…and looked away.
“Oh, wow,” I said out loud to no one in particular, “What a waste.” There went what might have been a small, special moment between them…a moment to connect. The little girl had been so animated, so thrilled with life – and her story. But her mom had been so… otherwise engaged.
“Otherwise engaged” happens all the time now – between parents and children, between husbands and wives, between old friends, new lovers, co-workers – in meetings, at the dinner table, at cocktail parties…or even on walks in the park. We just aren’t looking at each other, or listening to each other the way we used to thanks to the high tech, low touch, sound-bitten, “Sorry, I gotta answer this text!” world we live in. Yes, it’s seductive to be a pre-eminent multi-tasker, to be everywhere at once, to be everybody’s everything. But of course, in the process we risk not being much of anything to anyone…at any time.
And it’s gotten worse. Particularly for our children…
Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician specializing in child development said she remembered seeing a mother placing her phone in the stroller between herself and her baby. “The baby was making faces and smiling at the mom,” Radesky says, “and the mom wasn’t picking up any of it; (reminds me of my Central Park story) she was just watching a YouTube video.” She goes on to say, “That’s a big mistake, because face-to-face interactions are the primary way children learn…” What are we doing?
But that’s not the worst of it. A psychologist, Catherine Steiner-Adair wrote a book about parenting called The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. She asked a thousand children between the ages of 4 and 18 to describe their feelings about their parents’ use of smartphones. The words that came up over and over again were “sad,” “mad,” “angry,” and “lonely.” Some of the younger kids joyfully recounted throwing their parents’ “stupidphones” (as one child called them) into the toilet, putting them into the oven or just plain hiding them. One little girl said she felt like she must be “boring” to her dad… Again, what are we doing?!
But it’s not just the children. In a recent piece called, Text or Talk: Is Technology Making You Lonely? Margie Warrell writes about how recent studies show that despite our being more “connected” than ever, more of us feel more alone than ever – especially the preeminent social networkers: young people under thirty-five. But what else would you expect? Hyperconnectivity starts early…
One more story: About a month ago Jim (my husband) and I were driving down Fifth Avenue. The light turned red, we stopped and I spotted a couple walking along the avenue pushing a stroller with two small children tucked inside. Their mother and father were on their smartphones…and both their children were glued to their video games. No one was talking. No one was listening. No one was looking up…
One more time: What are we doing?
Look, it’s time for us to get back in touch. It’s time to make a promise to take ourselves out of the social media/electronic maelstrom for just a few minutes every day and be there for someone else – to say the full words of our feelings, not the abbreviations, to wrap our arms around the moment - and the people (little or big) in our lives and meet them, not at the “cloud” level…but at the “heart” level.
It’s time to look up.
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