We live in the digital age: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, Email, Texts. It's all there in our small, but powerful phones. I first wrote about these outlets in "I Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Selfies" and "10 Things I Wish Men Would Do in Their Tinder Profile." Despite my lighthearted, joking manner in those posts, I continue to think about our digital age. What does it mean to live in the digital age? How do my relationships play out on social media? Why do I sleep with my phone? Should I cut back on my screen time, and if so, how? Why do I even use social media in the first place?
The digital age provides us an opportunity to share our life and who we are with our circle. It helps expand our horizons by exposing us to new ideas and places. We can agree universally that one of the primary benefits is that it allows us to connect with friends and family. To quote one friend, social media lets us "maintain connections in a world where dinners and coffees take more band-with than you have." Facebook and its Messenger app often serve as a better version of Tinder for relationships. For many of us, social media also offers an opportunity to develop businesses and our professional connections. Regardless of our own subjective use, we feel more connected. Or do we?
Most of us agree on the negative aspects of the digital age. Thanks to e-mail, we are now connected to work 24/7. Texts and e-mails substitute real, face-to-face communication, often with the unforeseen consequences of detachment and misunderstanding. We live in an environment of instant gratification in the form of replies, likes, comments, shares, and retweets. Social media posts and online personas can be completely disconnected from reality, leaving us with the feeling of who knows what to believe anymore. As women, we are subjected to an endless amount of photoshopped images and unrealistic body expectations (I especially worry about my daughter on this point as she gets older). However, if we are able to filter through the bragging, posturing, gamesmanship, and political arguments, the benefits of social media far outweigh any of its disadvantages. And let's face it, I can always count on something (usually funny animal videos) in Facebook to make me laugh.
I have to ask myself: What does the digital age mean for my children? They are growing up in such a different world from mine. I try to be a good Mom, by limiting their screen time and encouraging them to play and read more. For now, I skip all of the articles and discussions about pre-teens/teens and social media. That is a "down the road" issue. After all, my children are only 7 and 8 years old. They are not even on social media, yet. That must mean that I don't have to worry about it. Wrong. Today marks the exact moment in which I should think about the digital age and their development.
There are two main reasons for this. First, if I am physically present, but mentally distracted, it communicates to my children that they are not important. Of course, none of us want our children to feel that way. Burying my nose in my devices sends the wrong message. Second, as a parent, I am a powerful role model for my children. Like it or not, my children see my use of technology and will seek to emulate it. Yikes! The other night I went to dinner with two friends and our children. On the way to dinner, I took my children's devices, telling them that they can have one dinner without Minecraft, Pokemon Go, and YouTube. Yeah right, Mom! And then guess what happened? Within 10 minutes of sitting down at the table, I pulled out my phone (I "needed" to Google something). My other friend began to look at her device, too. Our third friend looked at us in disbelief and said, "Can I remind the two of you that you banned the kids from having their devices, but you are now on your phones?" She was absolutely right.
My friend's question struck a chord with me. It made me recall a Ted Talk by psychologist, Sherry Turkle, entitled "Connected but Alone?" I urge you to watch it, but I will try my best to summarize what I took away from it.
Turkle theorizes that our electronic devices have the illusion of making us feel "always connected," and as a result we gradually lose our ability to be "alone." Solitude is our time for self-reflection and growth. Turkle's fear is that our children are not learning how to be alone. They are also not learning how to have a "real" conversation. A real conversation is one that takes place in real time, where they can't delete, revise, posture, edit or hide how they really feel. Online personas are not invited to real conversations. In Turkle's view, the lack of solitude and the flight from real conversation compromises the ability for self-reflection, which is a bedrock skill for a child's development.
Technology is here to stay, but it is up to us to establish a balance, not only for ourselves but for our children. Turkle encourages us to examine how to use our devices to "make this life a life that we can love." She provides simple advice that all of us can incorporate in our day-to-day lives. Make room for solitude. Create sacred space in our life that we can reclaim for real conversations.
Turkle is right: a text or post can be "like a hug." She refers to the Goldilocks effect and how important it is to have -- not too little, not too much, but just the right amount. Let's not allow our "virtual hugs" and online conversations to replace real conversations and warm hugs. I know that I will really talk with my children and hug them a little tighter tonight. After they go to bed, I will be sure to embrace my solitude by unplugging from my devices.
Thanks for reading!