Written by Marykate O’Malley, mother of three wonderful children, Gladwyne, PA
I often read about the perils of the internet and understand how important it is to monitor what our children are looking at, what they are reading, who could access them online. And then I have another concern, more like a whisper, nudging me, quietly prodding – but what about all this screen time? What about how we communicate? What about how we are interacting and not interacting? What happened to good old fashioned conversation?
I know it may seem odd, a mommy blogger, living in the social media space to be concerned about social media but I am. Because behind the glossy Facebook pictures and Pinterest posts, I worry we are missing truly connecting with each other. Believe me Facebook is great, for keeping in touch, sending a group invite, soliciting advice. It has its purpose. What concerns me about my children is social media replacing most of our social interaction. Because then we aren’t interacting, we are just communicating in a superficial cyber world where everything is through a medium, through a veil.
I read once about babies in Russia, orphans, and all of their needs were met – food, shelter, clothing, but they were dying. It was because they lacked one of the most essential human needs – interaction – touch, and love and affection. And although this is dramatic compared to technology, when I look at my children, and they are playing in tandem with friends and both sitting next to each other, not speaking and sucked into their own virtual gaming world – I can’t help but think at some point are we going to delay something, something that took thousands of years to evolve? If what most people truly want and desire is to be seen, and we aren’t even looking at each other, what does that leave? If over 65 % of communication is nonverbal (some say over 90%), what are we missing when we communicate and interact this way?
It’s the teenagers I see in Starbucks that worry me. The ones who sit across from each other but rarely look up to speak, their fingers and thumbs moving furiously. They occasionally glance up, exchange a few words then bow their heads to the smart phone. I think about language, as someone who loves words, the sound of them. I read the word thistle today and thought what a perfectly gorgeous word! Thistle! I know, I know – I am a word geek. But a happy word geek. And then I see words reduced to shorthand, and now little pictures. We have evolved as a species to complex and expressive language and now seem to be moving backwards towards icons to communicate, like images scratched on a cave wall. And believe me, I do all of it. I am as emoticon happy as the next person. And I worry. And I don’t want my children to miss out on the glory of writing with pens, of being a word geek, of looking at someone and really seeing what they are saying, what all of them is saying, and connecting with people and not profiles, not photographs through little thumbs.
I think technology has done far more good in the world that it could ever do ill. It has allowed us to connect and interact across time zones and all kinds of barriers. Think about how quickly funds can be raised by an online fundraiser or concert. In the end, I want my children to be able to drink in faces, and tones, and hear the cadence of someone’s voice. I want them to know words, and relish them, to feel them roll off their tongues, to know people as they are, not as they think they should be, not as an image, but a rich and three dimensional human person.
And of course, the great irony that I am blogging this! And you can’t hear me or see me. But we are connecting. I think. I hope. For me, I sometimes feel as a blogger like I am posting out into cyber space or a black hole and everything I write is echoed back to me – anybody there? there? there? And then it isn’t until I am told about our stats, and WOW, thank you readers (there are a LOT of you!) who follow us every day – it isn’t until then that I realize, there is someone out there! And it is you. And by the way, I will let you in on a little secret, when I write I write as if I am talking to a good friend (you!) and like we are having a conversation (one sided if that!). Otherwise, I wouldn’t know the first thing about being able to blog, or write like this. That is why I don’t use complete sentences! And tell corny jokes! Because I don’t always speak in complete sentences, and yes get off topic (like right now) and love a good bad joke.
This social media worry – how do I handle it? I unplug and make my children (despite their unhappiness about it at times) unplug. It has to be conscious – to put the cell phone away, click off the tv, shut down the iPad. Otherwise we would never have the ying and yang, never have the balance. It feels almost irresponsible at first – what if someone needs me? But the reality is what I am really missing is another Pottery Barn Kids email that they are having another 20% off sale. Pottery Barn Kids can wait. And what I am not missing is being present, and really seeing my children’s expressions, and how their hands move when they tell me a story, how their voices rise and fall, and how they look when they are happy and sad, and yes, even when they are cranky and tired. I am seeing them.