Earlier this evening while having a beer with a friend at an outside cafe table, I watched a pink haired, belly ring-showing girl walk down the sidewalk. She was giggling and talking with animation into her cell phone. While I kind of admired her style, she made me long for an earlier time. A simpler time.
I grew up in part, in a very small, rural town in Virginia. There were three hundred citizens there. Three hundred and, one little girl who spent every vacation possible with her grandparents in the woods and on the water. It was peaceful and simple. We talked to each other directly. The electronic communication then consisted of listening in on the party line while waiting for our turn to make a phone call (seriously).
Today we are all glued to our phones. Many days in the office I have to ask a parent or two to please turn their phone off so we can talk about their child’s health without distraction. Even I feel a constant compulsion to check email, text, tweets….It is not a simple world. On a radio ad the other day I heard that one car insurance company now considers those that purchase from them – “members”. When I shop for groceries I am a “member” of the big box store nearby. My own company is now recruiting “pre-members”. Pre-members? What kind of marketing nonsense is that phrase?!
This made me look up the definition of the word “member”.
mem·ber [mem-ber] noun
1. a person, animal, plant, group, etc., that is part of a society, party, community, taxon, or other body.
2. Government .
a. a member of Congress, especially of the House of Representatives.
b. a member of the British Parliament, especially of the House of Commons.
c. any member of a legislative body.
3. a part or organ of an animal body; a limb, as a leg, arm, or wing.
4. Botany .
a structural entity of a plant body.
5. the penis.
Focus on item #1 above (and for now, ignore #5 ) for a moment. In the past we were members of our communities and families. Now our devices allow us to be connected with everyone, everywhere if we choose to be. This may be making us in turn, less in tune with the people who most matter. And this is an important point to discuss with our teens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a report last year entitled The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. It looked at the benefits of allowing kids to be online and ran through many of the risks. The report seemed though to miss a subtlety. Many of the risks of social media may stem from a preoccupation with the online world that precludes being truly present in the physical world. If we are constantly driven to check our devices do we fully experience the moments occurring in front of us? We risk being made less members of our towns and homes and more members of marketers toolboxes.
Ask your kids if they agree. Do they feel this disconnect at times?