Monday, August 19, 2013

Children and Technology Follow-Up: Mindfulness

If any of you had a chance to listen to the Diane Rehm show featuring Catherine Steiner-Adair, I'm sure you found it fascinating. Throughout the program I was struck by the need for increased mindfulness in our interactions with children and fellow adults. I know I am guilty of zoning out in front of my computer screen or letting my phone take away my attention during a face-to-face conversation with my husband. I've only had a smartphone for one year and it's amazing how much of a distraction it has proven to be. Before jumping on the iPhone train, both my husband and I either did not have cell phones or had the really basic ones that are easy to ignore because the only thing you could do with them was make calls. 

Now I find myself constantly having to resist the temptation to check my phone for a message, a Facebook post, a twitter response, etc. Granted, there are definite benefits. I love being able to text back and forth with my parents and siblings, who are over 3000 miles away. I like the convenience of many of the apps I use. The main challenge is making a conscious choice to put the phone away when I'm with people. I think I have an advantage here over younger people because I know what it is like to host a dinner party where no one was using a smart phone. I know what it's like to have a three-hour coffee date with a friend and never be interrupted by a chirping phone. Like Steiner-Adair I feel very sad for the tech generation as they may never know what it's like to have those unwired exchanges. 

Steiner-Adair put it very well when she said: "The big disconnect really is the paradox of the age. We are unbelievably connected to each other in ways we've never been able to be and yet the quality of our connection has led to an increase in loneliness, in face time, in speaking to one another, in being fully present with each other. All the human attributes that make us fully human in our connections to each other."

To be fair, my siblings and I all have memories of my mom spending long hours on the phone (the old fashioned kind!) with friends who needed her attention. And it's human nature to be distracted and to focus on the urgent. The difference I think Steiner-Adair finds troubling is that screens are everywhere. And it's so easy to simply resort to technology in moments of stress and frustration. "And there's no doubt when you hand a child a smart phone because they're frustrated in the checkout line and it's so easy. What we are teaching kids in those moments is that the way you deal with frustration or being upset is to stimulate the brain not to calm the brain down."

It seems to me that one way to combat our technologically addicted world is mindfulness. Now mindfulness is usually traced back to Buddhist practices of meditation but I prefer to think of it as a conscious decision to engage with life in a meaningful and spiritually aware way. One can find many biblical references to living thoughtfully and developing a disciplined mind (Col 3:2, Rom 8:5, Rom 8:6, Rom 12:2). By "taking a beat" in moments of frustration and busy-ness, one can cultivate a habit of mindfulness and by modeling this to our children, maybe we can stem the tide of technological invasion into our lives. Now, this may involve setting up and maintaining strict boundaries. More than that I think that it means making a concerted effort to spend quality time together. Those of you who read this blog regularly can probably predict how I think that should happen. Yes, I think that reading aloud as a family is a great way to encourage interaction. Playing together, whether it's board games or a friendly match of soccer or touch football, is another great way to encourage "real" interaction. The best antidote to screen time is real human connection. If we make ourselves available to those real-world interactions by limiting our virtual ones we'll probably end up being better spouses, parents, and friends to the people in our lives. And we'll be showing the next generation that technological interaction is not the only method. 

There is a time and a place for technology (I am writing this on a blog after all) and it's a very useful tool. And I think that's the key. It is there for my use, I have control over the role it plays in my life. I start classes next week and I know that that is when I have a tendency to allow technology to play a bigger role in my life. And so as we're all starting up school, I am going to challenge myself to more mindfulness in terms of my interaction with others. Will you join me?

All quotations taken from the transcript of "The Big Disconnect" available here.

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