Your teen is in another room and you have a pressing question - what do you do? Get up and
start a conversation, yell down the hall, or pick up your phone and send a text? If you chose texting, you're not alone. And if you're a teen, it's likely that the first two options were not even under consideration.
According to the Pew Research Center's recent report "Teens, Smartphones & Texting", "23% of all those ages 12-17 say they have a smartphone . . .31% of those ages 14-17 have a smartphone." For smartphone-toting youth, "the volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user." And texting is quickly displacing other forms of communication. The Pew report found that "63% of all teens say they exchange text messages every day with people in their lives. This far surpasses the frequency with which they pick other forms of daily communication, including phone calling by cell phone (39% do that with others every day), face-to-face socializing outside of school (35%), social network site messaging (29%), instant messaging (22%), talking on landlines (19%) and emailing (6%)."
With the evolution of technology we are communicating faster and more frequently, but less personally and less deeply. We have apparently reduced communication to characters on a screen, and are starting younger and younger. At what cost? Are electronic devices contributing to the lost art of communication? Are online social sites making us lonelier? Some opponents would certainly make the case. Facial expressions, body posture, emotion, and physical proximity - or dare I say "closeness" - are on the decline. As reported in the Huffington Post, Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York has "noticed that more students don't look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation – habits that, she says, will not serve them well as they enter a world where many of their elders still expect an in-person conversation, or at the very least a phone call."
As we become more attached to our devices, we have not only detached ourselves from one another, but we have filtered our experiences through the information we elect to receive on our phones, computers, and through our DVRs. "We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party," explains Sherry Turkle in the New York Times. We opt in and out of information and communicating, representing ourselves through filters, editing our words, pictures, and personas to a world of electronic associates.
The big problem, however, is that "human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference," Turkle writes. And as we keep our heads down, tick-tick-ticking away, we are forging digital connections that fall far short of real, personal relationships and bonds. We like that our devices are always there and always ready. We feel that we have a constant voice and an unwavering audience. But it's shallow and incomplete. How many times do you find yourself standing in line or waiting for an appointment with a moment of solitude and self-reflection upon you, only to pull out your smartphone and distract yourself with digital happenings?
And what of parenting is this digital age? Do your kids ever say "Mommy, put down the phone?", "Get off Facebook", and "Pay attention to me?" Parenting is inherently messy and demanding - and challenging. Do we wish our years away, long for them to be simple and easy, like a Facebook friendship or online chat? Do we abhor even more the principles of connection with our children, rail against the ideas behind attachment, and pack our phones for family outings?
It worries me that we are losing live communication, community, and connection. We fool ourselves into thinking we are "engaged" and "activist" when we are recipients of digital information and electronic characters. In this digital age, we lose the ability to respond emotionally, physically, and energetically to each other. We avoid self-reflection and stunt personal development when we edit everything that we say and do, see and hear. And, as parents, we are doing a disservice to our children if we make electronic communication the norm and refuse to dive into the messy, complicated, and emotional world of real, face-to-face communications.