My wife and I were recently on a walk at a nearby park, and I noticed a young family – mom, dad, and three young kids. I’d guess the oldest was a preteen girl, the youngest, a boy, was maybe six years old. The middle kid – you guessed it – was somewhere between the two. And, I guess they were the typical “middle child” from my perspective, because I don’t even remember if they were a boy or girl.
I was pretty impressed that the parents were dragging all three of these kids out on a walk together. How sweet! A family who, from a distance, were all together and seemed to be enjoying themselves.
We were walking around a small pond area – maybe 1/3 of a mile total distance. They were slowly approaching us from the other side. Our pace was… a bit brisker. We were getting our steps in, after all!
As we got a little closer, I noticed something was missing from the “picture perfect” image I’d already created in my mind of this family. They were not interacting with each other. They were not even really looking where they were going.
Each person in the family was looking down at a phone in their hand.
They were still coming toward us, and I started muttering to my wife. What kind of parents take their kids for a walk in the great outdoors and then lets them have a phone in their hand the whole time?? Worse, what kind of parents take their kids on a walk on such a beautiful day, in such a beautiful setting, and then summarily ignores them!!?? I was getting a bit riled up – even thinking about saying something to these parents. Come one, you can do better! My wife, always quick to allow for alternative stories and look for the silver lining, asked me not to say anything. I agreed. We kept approaching – quite close by this point.
Then all five of the family members suddenly stopped, staring very intently at their phones, and took a few steps off the path together, gathering in a circle – now looking down in the direction of the ground.
In a flash, I realized I’d been a complete idiot!
They were geocaching!
Honestly, I’m a bit teary-eyed as I write this. I wanted to apologize, even though they couldn’t have known what I was thinking! I was so quick to judge, and especially quick to take offense at those parents! And they were doing a great thing with their kids – a family bonding activity and spending time with them outdoors! My…let’s call it what it was…anger gave way to pride and joy for those parents and those kids! They were using those phones to connect with one another, not, as I’d presumed, ignore each other. They were learning and growing, and spending time together!
I observe, wherever I am. It’s what I do. But I can be too quick in assigning a (possibly false) narrative to people, based on what I see – based on the information I can ascertain. I’ve literally been sitting in a restaurant, frustrated with what looks like a table full of people ignoring one another via their electronic devices (and they really were), and then I’ve grabbed my own phone to check on…whatever! I don’t even know! Like, honestly, half the time when I grab my phone, I don’t have a reason. And I don’t do any of “the socials”. So what am I checking it for, really?
Cell phone and other electronic device useage – especially the thing that is “supposed” to be connecting people – social media engagement – is definitely interrupting actual connectivity, and creating dis-integration among people, and within individuals. Worse, it is creating a huge problem with mental health issues. The U.S. Surgeon General just released a dire warning about this exact issue! It is hugely concerning to me, and I think I’m predispositioned to be on alert for it in others. But I’m not always right. My perceptions are not always founded, or even close to accurate. And I have definitely failed to notice how my own distractedness via devices affects me, and relationship with those with whom I desire connection. It is possible for people to actually use their devices for good reason, and with positive outcome. But I’m afraid that far too often this is not the case. I don’t know the answer for how to get people to put down their devices and actually engage in actual face time together. As in face-to-face dialogue and connection. I know I’ve referred to this before. Dr. Dan Siegel states that everyone needs to be seen, soothed, safe, and secure. This is the way mental health happens. And these things happen with real, person-to-person interaction. I know I can only change my patterns and behaviors. So that’s where I will continue to focus. Awareness is a start, but I’m not satisfied with that. I’ve made some commitments to myself – and to my wife – regarding my own phone use, but honestly I can do better still – and I will.
Have you observed or been part of positive situations where social media was involved? What about not-so-positive? How about outright mental health issues resulting from it?
My best friend in college and I would sit with our computers at the same table and send messages and memes to each other whilst we did our homework and surfed the web. We also talked to each other, of course, but I thought it amusing at the time that we’d communicate both face to face and online, as did he. Facebook was way new back then, so it was novel.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It can be fun to do when in the same room. My family once played “among us” for a solid couple hours, while all in the same room. I did the same thing as part of a work team gathering. It can be done, and done well – with intention.
Suprise suprise, I don’t actually have a story to regale you with concerning technology…lol…double edged sword…I am however, fully aware of needing to consistantly work on my perspective, as life has made me a bit cynical up to this point…I am learning still…thanks for sharing. Toni
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Toni. Yes. Keeping a healthy perspective is important – and can take work!
LikeLiked by 1 person