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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Technically Speaking

Technically, one could say we are advancing as a society. We have gadgets and gizmos galore, and we can read, shop, or chat at any given moment, in any location. We can search any topic. We can call any point of the globe. We can connect. Except, technically, we don’t.

Technically, we do not know people. I mean, not really get to KNOW them. Our circles of friends and acquaintances are diminishing as we become more and more reliant on our devices. In a queue? Whip out your phone instead of chatting with the person behind you. In a jam? Whip out your phone instead of chatting with the other passengers. In a down minute? Whip out your phone instead of doing nothing, listening to birds, and enjoying the breeze on your face for a few minutes. Have a bad day? Whip out your phone and turn on your ‘Let’s be happy’ app instead of meeting up with your friends to hang out for a few hours.

Technically, our capabilities far out-reach anything we could do even one year ago. Every new app, every new model, every new gadget, every new electronic toy can do things faster, smaller, smoother. Speed is of the essence. Except that we are overlooking connection for speed. What we can do in an email, we shorten to an IM or SMS. What we can do in a phone call, we fire off with an email. What we can do with a meeting, we shorten to a phone call. Friends, we need connection as part of our humanness. We need that face-to-face interaction, that opportunity to converse and chat and just interact. We need to ask our kids how their day was, and what they did at lunch time, and what was their favorite thing they learned. We need to slow down, and focus on people, especially OUR people.

Technically, we can 'fix' any problem/situation/issue/angst with a quick search. Google can tell us the solution. We don't need to call the doctor, electrician, mechanic, vet. We can google it, and watch a couple YouTube videos and do it ourselves. We can be Mr Fix-it-all, thank you very much. Except that these professionals went to school, and spent good effort and time learning and crafting their skills. They actually know WHY that thingamabob makes that particular noise, and what will happen if it doesn't. They actually know why that rash is actually something to worry about, and what the best plan might be to fix it. And they know why your shower head is zapping you when the cold water is cranked up. Find your human expert, stop googling solutions and get the situation taken care of. Yes, it will likely cost more time and effort, but ... that human knows what they are doing.

Technically, we can let our kids fall into their devices, and things will stay calm. Dinner time is a lot more peaceful when we don’t have to talk over one another, right? We can let our kiddos do their socializing on their various platforms, meeting god only knows what people and making e-friends all over the world. This is the easier, quieter, more family-calm-time way. Except that it is also not helping your kid flex and develop their social skills. Online, people drop in and out of others' lives, literally barely a blip, and then they are gone. There is not involvement, no tie, no connection. Kids are technologically savvy, no doubt (just ask them to fix your problem with your phone/tablet/desktop; they can and will fix it and half a dozen other things before you can even say 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' ... and then they can google that, too, because likely, they don't know who Mary Poppins is). Hiding behind a screen is easier than actually putting yourself out there, right? Easier than facing possible rejection. And, maybe even more important, if you don’t connect with your kids (over the dinner table, chatting in the living room, as you play basketball together, whatever), you are missing on the details of their day. You won’t know what happened at school, who likes whom, which kid made a horrible mess at lunch or what killer assignment the English teacher just gave them.

Technically, screens don't hurt people; people hurt people. But if we are handicapping our children's ability to develop their social skills...The more we push technology at our kids, the less they are developing their socialization skills; they can faster reprogram your iPad than they can have a discussion with an adult about their exciting plans for the weekend. Talking to peers about feelings and hopes and dreams? What?! Remember when we were kids, and we used to have sleepovers where we talked with our BFF about everything under the sun? Now sleepovers are for all-night PlayStation tourneys and chatting online with the friends who aren’t currently in the room. Help your kids see how their actions and words affect others, help them look at the human they are impacting with their words or photos, and help them realize how powerful their kind words can be. Then the bullying will diminish. It’s not about punishing those who have been mean; it’s about building a sense of community that will inhibit any meanness from starting in the first place. I’m not placing the blame solely on screens; we do need to come to terms with the fact that our kids don’t connect with people in the same way that we did when we were their ages because they don’t have to. They can build a faceless community for themselves of disembodied online personalities. They can be (or pretend to be) whomever they choose online; it’s very different in person.

Technically, we can say things when we are cloaked by a screen that doesn't really hit home. We can say them, and then turn off the device and it is done. Gone. Except it isn't really. Horrible, cruel things that we see or hear online stay in our minds for long after the words or the images are gone. Cyber-bullying is an awful horrible thing. It is a faceless, cruel evil we bring upon others maybe because of insecurity, anger, or hate. Bottom line is, we can do these awful things, and then it doesn't really hit us how much it can or does impact others. We don't see their face when they read the words, nor look at the picture. We don't hear they crying to their friends or to their parents. We don't know the angst we have wrought because we are not connected to our actions.

Technically, one could argue that devices keep us connected. And sure, they do, especially for those of us who live far from our families. We rely on Facebook, email and iMessage to keep in touch with those we love and hold dear. But apps, my friends, are designed to grab your attention and keep it … and they are very very effective at this. They aren’t going to nag at you, or talk back to you, or be angry about doing homework or eating their broccoli or ask you to do the dishes. These apps, these screens, are going to give you simplified positive feedback and reassurements which in turn make your brain (or at least the primitive part of it) happy. And just as they make you – a big person who should know better – happy, they will do the same for your kids. Your kids are in their formative years, developing their own habits and abilities. And they mimic your actions. They are walking around with ear buds in 24/7, and talking in SMS-speak, and thinking in sound-bites and twitter fragments. Life exists because it is noted on Facebook. Their connections are defined by how many likes they get, and they can tell you exactly how many friends it says so on their profile page.

Is that real? I’ll tell you what’s real, my friends. People are. Friends, family and the grass and trees and the breeze that blows the dandelion puffs. The book you hold in your hand to read the bedtime story. The chatter from the back of the car during carpool. The silly songs the kids make up and the light sabre battle in the front yard in dimming light of early evening. That’s all real. And to enjoy it, you have to put the phone down.

Phones, tablets, computers, television – all screens. All inanimate objects that are time bandits, and they walk with soft feet so we don't notice their daily raid until we emerge from our screen-enhanced stupor and realize how much time flew away. Not just time, though, but people, too. Where did the people go? Where did the important things go? Because when screens are on, everything else fades into the background. And sometimes, the important people get tired of waiting for their fair share of attention. I am not so much anti-screen, as I am pro-connection, and even a couple of hours a day on screens severely eats into the time kids need to create these necessary connections in their lives. Not just kids. Big people, too, need to work to foster the connections that help keep them grounded and supported and real. The connections to the people who will be there when they need a helping hand, or an ear. Connections are important, friends, because without them, we fall into a silent, lonely stupor. Sure, a lonely person can still be a productive one, but for what purpose? That one is not happy, not satisfied, not connected. Connections are where we grow and develop; there are many different kinds that we as parents should help foster for our kids.

Technically, maybe it would not be such a bad thing to be a little less technologically entrenched, and instead, be human. Be, think, feel, speak, care, consider and act human.

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