On a winter day long ago I decided to treat my kids to a pan of hot, bubbly homemade macaroni and cheese. It took forever to grate the cheeses and make the cream sauce. I bought expensive pasta and used real butter on the breadcrumbs that graced the top. Thrilled with my hearty offering I placed it in front of my wee ones who, with wrinkled noses and dumbfounded expressions, declared, “I thought we were having macaroni and cheese.” Much to my dismay, without a blue box and skinny bright orange noodles they had lost their culinary bearings. I find the same is true with technology and relatedness. Texts have replaced conversing and communities are formed in cyberspaces. Kids grow up with screens as siblings of sorts and we carry computers in our pockets to entertain, inform, and direct us. It all feels very “blue box” to me when up against the heartiness of relationship and self knowledge.
Technology is neither a gift nor a curse. It cannot be fairly demonized or praised. It simply is. It empowers its users to harness the masses for relief efforts in Haiti while at the same time reducing the running of the Race for the Cure to mere manipulation of a Second Life avitar. It offers up preschool toys that vibrate, light up, and make sounds. Adolescents plug in to it to keep in touch with their wide spread “friend” community, to explore the world, to “play,” and to try on alternate identities that real life doesn’t allow (oh how easy it is now to take digital photos until just the right one is captured...or created). Adults get their news from screens, their entertainment from screens, and work on them as well.
Two years ago the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that the average American was spending 8.5-9 hours a day plugged in to some kind of technology. Today that number has jumped to nearly 11 hours per day, controlling for engagement with more than one technology at a time (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010). Literature reviews suggest that both family talk time and social practice decrease as technology and screen involvement increase. These realities do not come without consequences to our selves and our relationships. With these ever present distractions we are not developing the kind of sturdy selves that can delay gratification, self soothe, or even self stimulate/initiate effectively. In relational realms we are substituting quantity for quality as our connections move increasingly out of the realm of the physical and into the world of the digital. Everything comes from the outside in in a way that has never before been possible and it is compromising us.
Technology, however, is only a part of the equation. We, the “consumers” (oh how I hate that all too true title) of it, play our role in the havoc that technology can wreak. We are good at many things. Moderation is not one of them. Just as 1950’s families became dependent upon the ease of post war convenience foods only to find themselves struggling with obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol in the 60’s, so too have we made technology a main dish instead of a side. We swallow it whole not noticing that the number of friends attached to our Facebook profiles rarely equate with a sense of deep relational resource when one is in need. We snack on the camaraderie found in massive multi player games while our intimate, real life relationships suffer from a lack of time and attention. We gobble up the idea that constant digitized connection and stimulation can substitute for meaningful relationships, active imaginations, and an ability to be still. We pretend we can soothe ourselves by surfing the web when, in reality, we are only distracting ourselves from the here and now by going far and wide in our cyber lives.
By becoming intentional and mindful of the ways in which we engage both technology and our real, touchable lives we can establish norms which will allow us to thrive in both spaces. This requires a realistic and honest assessment of our current technology use, an understanding of what drives that use, and a willingness to break bad habits. Are we spending too much time in cyber worlds or is our real issue the content we are interacting with? Do we push ourselves to maintain our face to face communication skills or are we losing our conversational muscles? Can we sit still? Be quiet? Tolerate boredom? Wait?
I somehow want to make space for balance. I am striving for a sturdy sense of self and an ability to take relational risks, to talk with people as comfortably as I can text them, to have an iPod and be able to sit in silence. I’ve decided that there’s room for blue box and homemade on the same table...sometimes even on the same plate.