However, when their meals were placed on the table, things dramatically changed (by now you must be thinking that I was overtly staring at these poor women. I promise I wasn’t. I was just passively observing over my cappuccino.). One of the women insisted on taking out her phone and uploading a photo to Instagram. The meal was appropriately styled and her friend was quickly asked to move out of the way, so as not to detract from the background of the photo. Her friend then said that she would like to upload her friend’s Instagram photo to her Facebook page and immediately began to do so. From there, both women became captivated with smartphones. Silence erupted. Both women frantically typed and interacted with their screens. There was no verbal conversation for several minutes. Nothing- no more conversation or giggles.
Before you ask, no, these were not teenage girls. The were women well into their thirties.
Bings, Bangs and Booms of Gadgets
There is a range of digital gadgets today all competing for our attention (and that of our children). The ping of an email, the SMS tone, social media alerts and the list goes on. But, these devices can be a double-edged sword.
They can assist us to positively connect and communicate. Skype for example, has allowed many people with families interstate or overseas to communicate in ways previously inconceivable. Communication apps, such as Proloquo2Go, have provided children and adults with autism the ability to communicate and connect in ways that have never been possible.
On the flip side, these gadgets can also ‘steal’ our capacity to connect. We can become so engrossed with these devices that we forget to tune in to the real world and connect in real, face-to-face communication. This was exactly what transpired in the café.
As a media researcher and advocate for technology, I am not blaming technology for changing how we connect. I am not ‘demonising’ technology. As adults, with sophisticated brains, we need to learn how to manage these devices. And NOT the other way around where we allow these devices to manage and consume us.
What About Today’s Digital Children?
We must also teach our children, who will live in an incredibly digital world, how to connect with people. It is essential that today’s children (and adults) also need to learn how to disconnect from devices.
Today’s children are watching the way we, as adults, are consumed and distracted by digital devices. Monkey see, monkey do. Many people, particularly parents, educators and psychologists are concerned that today’s children do not know how to ‘connect’ with their peers and engage in real conversations. There are fears that some children have become so enthralled and captivated with technology at the expense of human connections.
How do we teach young children that it is important to ‘connect’ with people in real-time?
• The most effective, but probably the most difficult thing to execute (I admit it myself) is to model ‘switching off’. Literally showing your child that you are switching off your phone, or turning off the iPad.
• We need to ensure that we have gadget-free time with our children (and also expect the same from them). Phones on silent at the dinner table or at the park, for example, may be part of your family’s ‘norm’.
• Model how important it is to engage in face-to-face discussions and conversations. Really emphasise how much you love ‘chatting’ or conversing with your child and other people.
• Have ‘dinner conversations’ (even if you are not able to sit down at the table together). Share funny anecdotes, tell jokes, ask questions when you are traveling in the car if you are time-poor.
• Let silence and quiet time be seen as good things. Too often we rush to use a gadget to fill in our ‘free’ or ‘quiet’ time. This is how the roots of addiction can be laid.I certainly don’t have all the answers and this is something that I acknowledge, is sometimes difficult to do. Do you have any other strategies for connecting in your household? I would love for you to share them in the comments below.