Hello dear readers. This one has been brewing for a while and I just can’t keep myself from writing it today. So, instead of working on my book, like a good girl, I’m getting on a little bit of a soap box.
I’m sick of basically being told that because I use my smartphone regularly and I engage in social media, I don’t know how to communicate or connect and I don’t have real friendships and if I let my kids use smartphones they won’t play outside ever again and my son may never meet the wife he’s destined for because he found directions on his smartphone instead of being lost and asking a pretty girl on the street for directions and I could go on and on and on. Enough already! (Yes, I’m aware that was a very long run-on sentence. I’ve obviously forgotten all grammar rules because I text so often.)
There’s a viral video circulating social media this week called, “Look Up.” It’s cleverly written and shot. It’s a beautiful video, actually. I even agree with some of the things that the author is saying (I love smartly written things). I respect that the point being made is to encourage people to interact face-to-face. I do think that is a valid point.
But overall, I think most of the arguments put forth in the video are emotionally manipulative, logically flawed and one-sided. I get why it’s appealing and I understand why so many people are sharing it, but I resent the manipulation. And the irony? It’s had over 30 million views in a week. The video telling us all to put down our phones and close our computers has had over 30 million views on phones and computers. Come on. That is funny. (It even appears to be monetized which is even more ironic! But also, good business ;))
So, this video was the tipping point for me writing this post. But it’s not the only reason. This post comes from personal conversations, articles I’ve read and even a speaker I heard at a conference a few weeks ago. (I’ll get to him in a minute.)
First, I will say that YES, moderation is needed. If you are addicted to your phone, can’t put it down for the span of a meal, have convulsions if you forget it at home, check Facebook 100 times a day…well then maybe there’s a 12 step program you should check out. I’ve personally tried to be more cognizant of when I pull my phone out and when I should leave it in my purse. But in general, I don’t think our “display” (be it phone, computer, iPad, whatever) is ruining our lives or our ability to communicate. I think, if used properly, our displays can enhance our lives, increase our communication and our community.
If you are not communicating because you are so wrapped up in Candy Crush…well, that’s on you and you should definitely seek some reprieve, or a dentist or something. But, for the most part, I think people who are on their phones “too much” are still communicating. It’s just a different kind of communication than what the previous generation had, so it’s automatically misunderstood and looked down upon.
(Read this in the same voice that says, “In my day, we walked to school…uphill, both ways.”) : “In my day, we didn’t type at people on our phones, we actually called them on the phone and talked to them.”
I, for one, hate talking on the phone. I have four kids and I think some time around their first birthdays, a Telephone Radar Fairy snuck into their rooms at night and implanted a chip that told them exactly when I was just starting a phone conversation.
I could be two floors away from them, but as soon as that conversation got started, everyone suddenly neeeeeded me. Like now. Like “my arm is falling off, mom. How can you be on the phone at a time like this?”
Not to mention that I’m ADD and can do almost nothing else while I’m on the phone because I have to use every ounce of my concentration or I’ll get distracted by something shiny and miss what’s being said.
So, I grew to hate phone conversations. When email became a “thing” I was ecstatic. I could respond to phone calls via email at midnight (when it would not be acceptable to call) or during the day in the midst of two children having an epic battle over who’s chair it is. No one on the other end of that email would hear my children screaming while pushing each other off said chair, or me yelling back or anything like that. It was blissful.
Then, enter texting. “Hallelujah…Hallelujah…” (you can do the whole chorus in your head right now if you like. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)
So, texting. It’s like
Al Gore someone invented this just for me. Because they knew that I love staying in touch with people but I hate talking on the phone and writing letters. Texting is a stay-at-home or work-from-home mom’s sanity sometimes. (Not even going to get into how convenient it is for getting quick answers to questions, etc. There’s so much I could say on that…but I digress…)
I have funny friends and I love getting random funny texts throughout the day. It makes me feel…wait for it…connected. Social media does the same thing. For a mom with young children who doesn’t get to leave home very often, Facebook can be a lifeline, making her feel like she’s still connecting with people. I reject the notion that it’s not a real connection. I think that it’s all in how you use it and in choosing (as with just about anything) not to abuse it. I also respect that it’s not for everyone. And not everyone likes to text. That’s cool too. But for me, they are fabulous tools.
For example, I have a very close friend named Karen, from when I lived in Virginia, almost twenty years ago. Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch. But neither of us are good at phone calls or letters. So it was maybe once every four years or so that we’d see each other with hardly any communication in-between other than the yearly Christmas letters that we both usually got sent out by January 15th.
Then, about five years ago, I ran into her on a business trip and pleaded with her to get on Facebook because I’d found it to be such a great way to keep in touch with out of town friends. So, she signed up that week, and not only has it been wonderful to see each other’s kids as they grow and hear what’s going on in each other’s lives, it’s actually caused us to physically connect way more often. I think we’ve seen each other every single year since we connected on Facebook. And our kids have connected as well and become friends as a result.
Without social media, I don’t think that would have happened. I actually have several close friends that have moved away and I am able to stay in touch, thanks to texting and Facebook. I am so thankful for that.
Some would argue that I am able to balance screen time with face-to-face connection because I didn’t grow up with smartphones and iPads, so I learned those skills before the advent of mobile tech. But that this generation doesn’t know how to have a face-to-face conversation because they’ve grown up with their faces in a screen. I’m quite sure that’s true of some kids. But it’s not true across the board. Not even close.
I look at my four kids, ages 9-19. Very different personalities and very different ways of communicating. All of them have had liberal access to screens and displays and technology of varying types. All of them had the means to be staring at a screen all day long. (However, if they did that, I would cut them off. Moderation, right?) Here’s the thing. Three of them are pretty good at face-to-face conversations (two of them really excel at it). And one is pretty terrible at it. So, if the reason for his lack of communication skills is screen time, it would make sense that he would be glued to an iPod or something, right?
Nope. He doesn’t spend nearly the amount of time in front of a screen as some of the others. It’s just his personality. He’s an introvert. He doesn’t come by conversation naturally, especially with new people. It’s something we’re working on and it will take time but he will probably never be someone who loves to sit and chat. I’m okay with that, because we don’t all have to fit into an extroverted mold.
He may not be chatty, but he spends hours drawing cartoon characters and he loves doing it. For his ninth birthday, he wanted charcoal pencils and sketch pads. I love that he’s developing a skill and that he gets genuinely excited to show us his creations. And guess who taught him to draw?
He looks up “how to draw” videos on YouTube and learns it on his own. Is it bad that he’s learning from a screen? The logic of some of the arguments out there would be, “Yes, because it deprives him of the connection he would have with an actual teacher. Someone who sat with him and showed him how to draw.”
Maybe, except that would never have happened. It’s not an either/or. I wouldn’t have hired an art teacher to come to my home and teach him how to draw Phineas and Ferb. So, I’m thankful for the screen time he’s put in, learning how to draw. I think it has enriched his life.
Patient reader, already this post is waaaay longer than I wanted it to be. But I’m not quite done. So, if your blood sugar is low and you need a snack or if you need to check your email and come back, feel free. I’m gonna finish soon. I promise.
I was at a conference a few weeks ago and the keynote speaker was a very well known basketball coach. He had some excellent stuff to say and I was captivated by his talk. But he lost me at one point. The minute he said, “People don’t know how to communicate anymore,” my radar went up. I knew what was coming. “Everyone’s on their phones, all the time. It’s terrible. I saw a family sitting at a table in a restaurant and the parents were on their phones the whole time. They didn’t communicate at all.”
First, he has no idea why they were on their phones or if they actually know how to communicate. It’s simply a judgement made by a judgmental person. And it’s not the first time I’ve heard that kind of judgement. I just read something yesterday pleading with moms on playgrounds to put down their phones and pay attention to their kids. Sounds nice at face value but again, it’s really just ignorant judgment. I’m impressed that the moms took their kids to the play ground, in the first place. They’re already better moms than me! Haha.
Are there people who should learn to put their phones down and engage with the people in front of them? Sure. Are there people who are rude and don’t pay attention when they should? Heck yeah. Does it mean we’ve lost the ability to communicate. No. That’s absurd. Smart phones didn’t invent rude people. They were probably rude before, too.
So, back to the speaker, I was irritated by his line of reasoning but I got really annoyed when he said this, “Parents, don’t text your children. Pick up the phone and call them!”
The assumption being that his way (calling) is superior to texting. That calling is communication and texting is not. I mean no disrespect, but that is just ignorant. Texting IS communication. My relationship with my teens is enhanced by the fact that we text each other. Again, it’s not an either/or concept. My kids tell me things via text that we would probably never get to if they had to call me or tell me in person. My relationship with my daughter improved greatly when she got a phone and we started texting. Our communication increased. So, the texting isn’t replacing our face to face interaction. It’s adding to it. Sorry Coach…you’re just plain wrong on this one. I call a foul.
To sum up, rather than dropping the smartphone in the recycle bin, I think people should really just take some personal responsibility and use their screens wisely. If you have children and you feel they aren’t learning to communicate because they’re playing Minecraft, then by all means, take the iPod away. You are the one with the power, so use it.
But we shouldn’t make blanket statements like, “People don’t know how to communicate anymore.” It’s all the rage to say that. It’s vogue to dis the smartphone. But the reality is that the technology and social media aren’t going away. They’re going to evolve but they’re not going away. So instead of complaining about it, we should just learn to use them in a responsible way.
Okay, I’ve been in front of my screen for two hours now and three friends are joining me for lunch. So, I’m going to close my computer and connect. But I’m glad we’ve had a little time to connect here on my blog. Me and you, my lovely reader. Thanks for stopping by. And as always…I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!
P.S. I read this to my friends at lunch and one of them suggested that I do a video blog for this post, so people can hear my tone and expression, because much of it is meant to be funny and that comes across when I read it. She said it would help those, like her, who don’t catch all that when they read. I have never done a video blog (don’t really care to have people looking at me) but I’d love your opinion. If you’d like to see me try something like that, let me know 🙂