I find myself growing weary of reading articles that complain about how technology is negatively impacting “kids these days” – how they are addicted to technology, distracted the the point of diminished capacity, and even experts who describe scary changes of the brain due to their excessive, or some would say, obsessive relationship with technology.
I don’t necessarily deny any of these claims; in fact, I agree with many of them. but we need to stop singling out kids here. In my daily life I see just as many adults struggling with making healthy and wise choices with their digital tools and digital lives. I completely agree that we have dropped the ball in terms of helping all involved develop mindfulness in this arena. We ban rather than teach. We somehow expect that kids should never screw up, so when they do, we trade the opportunity to teach and learn for punishment alone. We bring in a speaker for a “digital citizenship talk” for an hour, then go back to business as usual. We hand kids powerful tools and wave our fingers at them, telling them not to mess up, then send them on their way. Meanwhile, they see countless adults around them screwing up, making poor choices, and completely absorbed in their digital lives.
From personal experience with my own children, I see how their mobile devices are negatively impacting their development. It is crystal clear. Of course, this is purely anecdotal, but I see it happening. As Dan Willingham writes in this piece, it’s not that I want to limit their digital access for irrational reasons, but rather that I don’t want them passing up other important opportunities around them at the expense of their digital activity. And that’s what I see happening. So, we limit their time. We recognize the seductive nature of information, in all its forms, both good and bad. It’s less that bad kids make bad choices, but that we can all make bad choices when left unchecked. Due to some poor choices, my teen son had his smartphone taken away… for a month. We sat down and had a really good and important conversation when this happened. He’ll get his phone back and a week, and I’m sure he’ll be so excited about this. However, I’ve watched him blossom… turn back into his “old self” without constant access to information and his friends. He’s spending more time with his music again, with his hobbies, with his younger brother, and with us, his parents. He’s focusing so much better on his homework. His attitude has become much more positive and upbeat. As much as he misses his phone, he’s happier. He still has access to the computer for his regular needs, but not a computer in his pocket. I’m hoping that he’ll be willing to write about this experience from his point of view when this is all over… and be willing to share it here. Stay tuned. But regardless if he does or not, he is definitely learning about mindfulness and noticing how his constant connectivity is impacting him and his friends. He mentioned that lunch is so boring now because all of his “friends” (sitting at the same table as him) are on their devices and he has no one to really talk to.
I see many of my college students struggling with this as well. Some have developed the discipline of not letting their devices distract them from the activity at hand, while others really struggle in this arena… some to the point of it really interfering with their academic performance. I watched a male student walk into the women’s restroom and not even notice because he was texting. I routinely stand beside male students in the restroom who can’t even take 30 seconds to pee without engaging with their device. I wonder how many drop their phones in the urinal…
But then I almost get run over by adults in the grocery aisle talking and texting on their devices. I’ll see them suddenly stop in the middle of the aisle with absolutely no awareness or regard for those around them. I see people not noticing those in need around them… a mother with child really needing the door opened for her, for example, yet the guy doesn’t even notice because he’s absorbed in his device. The cashier in the checkout line, desperately needing someone to notice her and perhaps engage in eye contact and smile, yet person after person doesn’t even look up from their devices or is engaged in conversation with someone else at the other end.
I don’t want to make this a gripe session, but rather simply want to point out that we’re ALL struggling with the shifts that technology is enabling. We’re ALL struggling to be mindful of how our devices impact us and how we shape their use. We ALL need help – and this includes those who don’t really use new technology. How can they understand these complexities and help those around them understand them if they refuse to engage? How can a teacher (or parent) help their students understand tools like Twitter and learn to use them in empowering ways when they themselves don’t “get it”? It’s certainly no time to dig one’s heels in and say “I’m not going there.”.
I read a great deal about “mindfulness” and have written about it in a few previous posts. Just look back in this blog and you’ll find a few. What are YOU doing to remain acutely aware of how the new digital landscape is impacting you? What do you do to teach your children and your students this? What are some solutions to these struggles? I’d love to hear. Consider leaving a comment here to share, both with me and with others who may find this post.