Will the rise of technology mean the fall of human interaction? I know we talk about it all the time—technology is taking over! Technology is out of control! But what does it all really mean and how does it affect you and your family?
As a therapist working with children and adolescents, the unrelenting use of technology astounds me. Don’t get me wrong; I too enjoy my smartphone, my tablet and my apps, and I often use them with my clients. But the latest gizmos are not all I have at my disposal.
Take something as wonderful as the phone. We’d all agree it is a great invention, super-important to the world of communication. And its power has grown exponentially since the time of Alexander Graham Bell. When my clients fill out paperwork, they don’t give me a home phone number—that’s just silly—they give me cell phone numbers. And I do mean numbers, because everyone in the family has their own line. Even the 10-year-olds! Not only does she have a phone but she can Skype, Snapchat and tweet with the best of ’em!
Lately I wonder if I am the only one left with a landline—an actual phone plugged into a jack in a wall in my home. A home phone line is a beautiful thing, and let me tell you why: On a daily basis I hear teens discussing ongoing misunderstandings that derive from a text. Not just any text but—get this—the text “k” is ripping friendships apart. I know, I was astounded when I learned this. Apparently “k” is the equivalent insult of saying “screw you.” Of course, I questioned the teens I was working with … How can one little letter do all of that? Their response: “Ohmygod! Someone saying “k” is like the worst response ever! It basically means that person does not care about what you are saying.” Umm, really? Are we sure about that? And then, just like a rock concert chorus they all chimed in to state that “k” is absolutely unacceptable and is hands-down one of the most “frustrating text messages” you can receive. Imagine if I decided to do therapy via texting and I innocently responded with “k?” I may have just been the cause of a mental breakdown! Well, this is just a small example into our exploration of why and how technology is damaging us.
Whatever happened to pen and paper? Remember those things? The average 13- through 18-year-old that I work with does not need to write one single thing down, ever, during the day. So how do they manage to do this? Laptops for everyone! In school “writing” assignments are done on a Word doc. How’s that for irony? Phone calls have literally been replaced by text messages. I recently asked a teen client of mine to describe her negative thoughts to me in writing, including how often they come up. She handed me her iPhone with an open “note” app and showed me her work. Really?! It’s like someone outlawed writing utensils. Now, some of the more well-coffered schools hand out iPads instead of books. (So you better make sure you have eye care on your health plan.)
Traditional art making has gone digital as well. I love so many of my art-creating apps, but nothing—and I mean nothing—can substitute a piece of charcoal in my hand or a brush freshly dipped in watercolor paint. When I was explaining the idea of blending to a child I was working with she responded with, “Oh I get it, it’s like what I do on my sketch app with my finger!” I wanted to scream! Art doesn’t imitate life anymore; technology replaced art! In real life, when you finish a project you will actually have some art-making residue on your finger, some remnants of your creation, some dirt.
Here’s what is really ticking me off. I, the ignorant therapist, believe: OK, kids are obviously amazed by technology. But can I show them all of the amazing things they can do with some paper and pencil? Can I make them realize that with such simple yet wonderful tools they too will be amazed at what they can create? No battery needed! I believe I can convert them, but my shocking reality check comes when I show them what they can do with pencil and paper and they tell me, What’s the point because it looks so much better on my tablet. It’s a Sissyphean challenge.
(Can you hear that? It’s a violin playing the sorrowful tune of the death of true creation.)
So if I can’t convince a kid to actually talk to a friend or write a sentence or pick up a physical paintbrush, then maybe I can at least convince them to go outside? Remember that place that’s just on the other side of their door? No? If they look beyond their computer or phone screen they may just find that big blue openness I refer to as “sky.” Still not sure what I am speaking of? Well, the reason they don’t is because ‘outdoors’ is now more often experienced inside a living room. They have Wii or Xbox where they can storm the fields at Normandy or roam the pitch at Old Trafford or throw the ball home at Wrigley. They can play golf at Augusta, throw a Frisbee, go fishing—go anywhere—without actually going anywhere. There is an actual video game called “Active Life Outdoor Challenge.” WHAT???? How about the ‘challenge’ of, you know, ACTUALLY GOING OUTDOORS!!!
Technology is at our fingertips; it’s in our pocket at all times nowadays. So please tell me why the number one reason I hear from kids as to why they are depressed, addicted, cutting, etc., is that they are bored? No matter how many devices we have charging at once we are still bored. Small town or big city, it makes no difference.
Take a quick trip with me down the memory lane of a 30-something-year old therapist. I can remember being 10 and being bored. And then I went outside and rode my bike for hours. I released natural endorphins I didn’t even know about and I was as happy as I could be. I can remember being 13 and being bored. I’d grab a notebook and a favorite pen and I’d write some fun stories. Sometimes they were about me or my family and friends. Sometimes they’d be about nothing at all. And that kept me busy—for hours. I can remember being 16 and being bored. I’d call a friend and talk—T-A-L-K—about what we could do. We’d go to the movies or for a walk on the local strip. And if no one I called answered I’d grab some sketching paper and art tools and I’d create. And I was happy and busy and focused—for hours. My idea of a video game was trying to steal my sister’s GameBoy for all of 30 minutes. The idea of sending a friend text or words was obviously not a thought. Talking, hearing emotion, being able to know what the other person actually means when they say “k” was fantastic. Actually knowing when a friend was mad at me versus guessing based off of the way they texted “Hi” just sounds exhausting. I still choose the long lost art of speaking. (And don’t get me started on the draws of social media. Today in a teen group I asked what they felt was the biggest problem facing their generation. One person answered me: Social Networking.)
The fact is, I am 32 years old, and I do not consider myself old at all. As I stated in the beginning I embrace technology. The benefits are numerous, and as technology continues to get smarter and stronger and brighter I will continue to use it just like everyone else. But I won’t be dependent on it. I can’t be. I won’t let it overtake some of the little things in life, the little joys. I want my family to enjoy the same great things I enjoyed as a kid—and they can’t do that if they let technology run their lives. I do not want to embrace the age of carpel tunnel and blindness. I may have typed this onto my tumblr blog via my laptop but my notes came from random scraps of paper and napkins that I doodled and jotted ideas on.
Challenge yourself and your family to turn off the tech and turn on the reality. See where it gets you. I challenged one family just this week to turn off their television at dinner and they found they actually can enjoy talking to each other. Who’d’a thunk it?! That’s all, k?