A Long look at home (third of three in this series)

[I know blogposts are supposed to be short and this is not, so just read what you have time for.]

Perhaps I should stop going to Panera.  I don’t know what rock I’ve been under but “shock” is the only word for what I’ve felt my last few visits.  In the booth next to me, a young boy—maybe 12—was excitedly telling his dad about his club at school. Honest!  I saw, with my own eyes, a preteen boy dying to talk to his dad.  Talking “at” would better describe it.  Dad would give an occasional “Hmm-mm” as he sat focused on his phone checking something evidently very important.  The boy would wait, and hesitantly start again.  For those who know me, you know how hard it was for me to not pipe up, “FOR GOODNESS SAKE, HE WON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU FOREVER!!!  LOOK AT YOUR DARLING SON!”  I noticed no ring on Dad’s left hand.  Perhaps this was “quality time” with his son that week.  I can still see the look on the son’s face as he kept trying to get Dad’s attention.

Another family arrived with four beautiful children in designer clothes.  Dad was joking with the teenage daughter who jerked his hand away with a sullen look, while she told him exactly what she’d like him to order. Once they found their table, all four children, and dad, each pulled out his/her device ignoring the others.  Every now and then a chuckle was heard, but it wasn’t shared with those around them.

Next was a family actually happily talking to each another, with the exception of the boy with the beautiful blonde curls and striking fixated blue eyes who held his electronic device in front of his face with both hands, as he rhythmically rocked side to side for the half hour I observed.  And on it went.

Then I read Dr. Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together.   Her insights overwhelmed me.  I was enlightened, saddened and unsettled, to say the least, by what I read.  As a Christian, I had already been concerned with the challenges to our relationships, especially with the crumbling of marriages, and children born to busy adults, and so many in temporary relationships. But Turkle writes of “progress” that I thought only took place on the sci-fi screen—robotic dolls that some children and elderly are relating to better than the loved ones in their lives?  Wow!  I crawled out from Rock #2.

A professor at MIT and founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Turkle has spent many years deeply involved in the technology revolution but, unlike many others who have merely researched and invented those developments, she takes a critical look at the toll technology has taken, and will continue to take, on our already threatened relationships as human beings.   Real life relationships are often ignored—they take effort and vulnerability.  Cyber-relationships are preferred where you can “be” whoever you want to be, fabricate your beautiful image, or, you can say whatever hateful thing you feel because you’re safe behind your screen.

“These days we expect more from technology than we expect from each other,” Turkle explained in a radio interview.  “Technology appeals to us where we are most vulnerable.  We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy.  And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.  We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control.  But we are not so comfortable.  We are not so in control.”

Our technological devices, in Turkle’s words, “change our hearts and minds”  with, what she calls, “gratifying fantasies.”   I’m not exaggerating my feelings of alarm as I read her examples of young people today increasingly preoccupied with their online life.  They sleep with their device so they don’t miss an important post/message.  One girl told Turkle, “I keep the sound on when I drive.  When a text comes in, I have to look.  No matter what.  Fortunately, my phone shows me the text as a pop up right up front so I don’t have to do too much looking while I’m driving.”  Another says “I interrupt a call even if the new call says ‘unknown’ as an identifier—I just have to know who it is…”.  (p 175)*   As humans we all have insecurities we face.  But what a weighty dimension social media adds!  Not to mention, when is there time for personal reflection?   What is that?  Processing life events?  And all this takes a severe toll on the real relationships they can and should be developing.

Turkle has spent years observing and talking with our youth.  “We have seen young people walk the halls of their schools composing messages to online acquaintances they will never meet.  We have seen them feeling more alive when connected, then disoriented and alone when they leave their screens.  Some live more than half their waking hours in virtual places.”  But even teens long for traditional connections—“… they also talk wistfully about letters, face-to-face meetings, and the privacy of pay phones.  Tethered selves, they try to conjure a future different from the one they see coming by building on a past they never knew.  In it, they have time alone, with nature, with each other, and with their families.” (p 265)

The relationship Turkle doesn’t discuss in Alone Together is the all-important one, the one that promises lasting satisfaction and peace, and structure and healing for all other relationships.  But after all the hoopla, after the earthquake and fire, will we, like Elijah, be able to hear that “still small voice”.  Are we even listening?  The onslaught of distractions makes it harder to concentrate.  I only know those of my own heart, but these encroachments can all but snuff out what we are put here to do—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  The older I get, the more I find myself reflecting on relationships, and needing Jesus to help me love like Him.  It takes time—not only the loving but the thought processes and prayer beforehand.  Then there’s the simple joy in what’s around me.  Discovering and enjoying all He has given me!  Sharing that with my children and grandchildren.  Leading author/speaker, Dr. Paul Tripp, challenges parents to rediscover and convey the awe of God to their children.  Where is the awe of GOD in this world of constant distraction?**

But as Kip Dynamite says,  “Ooh, we love technology”.  Working parents can give their kids phones to communicate throughout the day.  Recipes, passport information, driving directions, restaurant recommendations, business deals—at our fingertips in seconds.  I can skype with my daughter in Thailand and my friend in Uganda. Back in the ‘60s, my mother would write a letter to my brother in Africa and wait for months for his reply.  I love having continual connection with my kids—quick questions, words of encouragement, and pictures.  Love them!  And children like the beautiful boy with blonde curls in Panera can enjoy some interaction and stimulation. Technology can be wonderful.  But like anything else, we need our heads on straight when we utilize it.

Confessions of a Control Freak  talks about my years of reacting from fear.  So I no longer want to be an alarmist or to despair.  Distractions and addictions have always been there—novels, the news, board/card games, porn, endless phone conversations, gossip, shopping, the stock market.   But these at least took a little effort.  We can’t ignore the enabling that technology offers—to escape to our attractions/addictions with merely a tap or two.  What will draw our children back, however, if not us parents and caregivers?  What draws us back?

Some of my most vivid memories growing up in the Knox house were meal times.  We came together at least once a day, talked, shared, argued, whatever.  Not every memory was happy, of course.  But for the most part, it was where things got processed in a supportive community.  Once I married and our oldest two children wanted to play sports, we had to make a family decision.  Larry and I wanted one meal a day where we were all together.  So the communal meal was changed to breakfast where sharing, teaching, reading of books we felt important, etc., took place.

Parenting has always had to be intentional.  Reaching our children’s hearts is a task we can only hope to accomplish with God’s power and wisdom, and with time.  Tripp reminds us that barking orders and administering punishment as we race out the door to the next activity is not Christian parenting.  We have to take time through each day to seize those character-building opportunities where we talk to our child about what they have done or what they are feeling.  Examining our own lives for where we fall short, pleading with God for His mercy and help for change, and sharing our struggles with our children can’t possibly be accomplished without intentional steps taken to limit the distractions and allow for biblical, responsible parenting.

Take a walk with your child.  In the car, talk about things that matter.  When disciplining, keep in mind these are fragile hearts you hold in your hands. Your job is to point them to their Savior who is their only hope for their little struggles, so He will also be in the big ones they someday encounter. Limit the time your child is in front of anything that is not the real life around them.  Put down your remote/mouse/phone/ipod, etc. The virtual world will always beckon.  The real one around you is in peril.  Pay attention, literally. Our children and their children need us to hear what’s going on insidenot some cyberspace stranger or an electronic companion.  God has ordained that YOU take them by the hand and lead them to Him.

*ALONE TOGETHER:  Why we expect more from technology and less from each other,  by Dr. Sherry Turkle, Basic Books: 2012.

**paultripp.com

 

Comments

  1. I have seen this phenomenon and even been guilty of reading texts while someone is talking to me. (You’ll be glad to hear that I have, however, quit checking them while I’m driving! :-D) As much as I have benefited from the wonderful ways that technology (like Skype, Google Hangout and Facebook) has enhanced my long-distance relationships, I am increasingly alarmed at the long-term effects of constantly living in a virtual world, as many in the younger generation do. I am concerned that they will be ill-equipped to face the necessities for real-life confrontation, affirmation and cooperation that will accompany marriage and parenting some day.

  2. Pris, thanks for a great blog that stimulates, informs and encourages instead of just scaring or guilting us half to death. I agree with your challenge, but also know how hard it is to discipline ourselves to shut down Facebook, stop texting, turn off the news, shut down the PC or phone…. I hope your time in Bangkok will be full of joy and lots of personal interaction with your beloved children and grandson.

  3. JoAnn Hohenberger says:

    I appreciate what you have said, Priscilla. You are so right. May God give us grace to use technology wisely, giving thanks for it. We all need to be careful, though. Thanks for taking the time to articulate these thoughts.

  4. Yes, this is so true, yet there’s no turning back from this technology. It’s a beast to be tamed! Just read an article by John Jay Fellow Sarah Clarkson called “An Antidote to Busyness, Rhythms, Imagination and Nature’s Story.” She talks about how her early experience with nature as a child led her to thinking and eventually coming to know God as Creator and Lord. Her point, however, is that with our fast-paced society, our virtual world crowds out the glories of the creation, and never gives us rest or peace of mind. She disconnected with her social media and was all the better for it. Just tonight I was texting with my brother traveling to the Grand Canyon, my nephew in Michigan, one of my EI Mom’s all while trying to sew. I am grateful also to be able to communicate to keep in touch, but it is crazy too. Needless to say I made some mistakes! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Patti Fish says:

    Thanks for taking up this issue in such a sensible and loving way, Pris. I’m going to send it on to several parents I know.

  6. So true Priscilla! Thank you! <3

  7. Mary Ann Sullivan says:

    So insightful and encouraging; thank you!