We live in an era of so many lovely gadgets and so much technology. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Regardless, I do not yet own a smartphone and am not sure at what point, if any, I will get one. Why? I often quip that I don’t want a gadget that is smarter than me, but that’s not really it. Part of it is the extra cost over my current “dumb” phone, and part of it is I that don’t feel that I really need it. It’s bad enough I’m on my computer (not laptop–yet) as much as I am, never mind having a device I can take with me, everywhere and, quite possibly, become more dependent on than I want to be. Plus, I look around at my fellow human beings gazing deeply into the screens of their phones and what do I see? I see what I don’t see, something conspicuous by its absence: real human interaction, real conversation, whether it’s by a phone call or face-to-face. We are social beings that need to hear the voice, see the face, or touch the hand of the ones we interact with.
This past week, the news reported two stories about Massachusetts teenagers that had disappeared. Thankfully, one has subsequently been found and returned to the family; the other, I don’t know. I told my Southern Man that I cannot even fathom what those families must be going through; it breaks my heart just to read or hear about it. On Facebook, there are all kinds of posts of missing teens that may be depressed, possible of committing harm to themselves or may be trying to meet up with a complete (supposed virtual “friend”) stranger who is promising them something they think they’re missing out on and need. Love? Companionship? Excitement? Who knows.
Until I moved to Alabama, I’d never heard of the term “cutting” as it relates to teenagers; if you still don’t know what it is, look it up–just put “teenagers cutting” into the search bar and look at all the results. Read about the obesity problem in our country due to lack of physical activity. Exclaim in horror at the stories about the “knock-out game” played by teenagers who “are bored”, kids who are cyber-bullied to the point of taking their own lives. Read all the reports of our over-medicated children who, when put on anti-depressants, become suicidal. Along with the “there’s an app for that”, we still have the “there’s a pill for that” mentality. What a terrible place we’ve brought ourselves to.
How did we get here? (I realize that many of us use our phones as tools that are necessary to our job or work; I’m not referring to those people.) We get incredibly stressed when our phones are broken, lost, or left behind and feel lost without them. We have had addiction problems in our country for a long time. Many of us–too many, in my opinion–have become addicted to our technology, whether it’s phones, computers, or video games. It’s not just the children, either. Look at who they see and emulate: us, the adults.
I drop my daughter off at school and there are several teachers out there to make sure the drop-offs go smoothly. I would say “greet the kids”, but I don’t really see that. Most of the teachers are at least paying attention to their surroundings, but I see one particular teacher who is always engrossed in a smartphone, occasionally glancing up, and then going back to it. Cars everywhere, parents saying good-bye, children starting another new day, and this person can’t put the phone away, make eye-contact, say “good morning”, or maybe even smile! What message does that send to our kids who are at the ages where they are trying to figure out where they fit in and feeling awkward and insecure in the meantime? “My phone is more important than you are.” “I don’t really care that you’re here.” The teacher may not really feel that way, but the actions speak loudly, otherwise, and toss any meaningful interaction that might possibly make a difference in one of those children’s lives right out the window.
That’s what’s missing: interaction with our fellow human beings. REAL interaction. You see it all the time, studies are done of it, books and stories are written about it, videos are made of it, but yet we continue to isolate ourselves in our personal little bubbles while fooling ourselves into believing that all our virtual interactions are making us happy, sociable beings. They aren’t. We surround ourselves with lists and circles of “friends”, but in spite of constant interaction with them, are lonelier than ever. We search for companionship, meaning, and purpose in a world that is not conducive to what we really need–personal, live interaction. We don’t get it, and are going down the road to wallowing in loneliness, boredom, running away, doing or being prescribed drugs, cutting, depression, suicide, or just plain becoming criminals. I use “we” as a general term for us all, but feel that the young and upcoming generations are the ones who are going down this path and we, the parents, are not only allowing it, but often enabling it.
The cure? Whatever it is, it is most certainly what doctors would call taking a “multifaceted approach”. I have my own personal opinions (as you have certainly figured out by now) and ideas, starting with strong parenting and boundaries, turning devices off, going back to things like, say, reading bound books, conversing with others, getting outdoors and back into nature, and, yes, turning back to the One who created it all.
And with that, The End.