I think we all know technology is changing our relationships. And I think we can agree that in itself isn’t a bad thing. Cell phones, Facebook, blogs — basically constant communication — has brought with it some great gifts. Reconnecting with old friends, feeling closer to grandparents or parents who live far away, a kind of work flexibility with those lucky enough to have the kind of job where you don’t technically have to be at the office to fulfill your duties.
But we are also constantly distracted, expected to be available, and in a never-ending conversation with ourselves about how we’d like to come across to all those Facebook friends we’ve never actually met. Our children have been raised to see their parents with a blue halo around their heads. They know anything they say can and will be used against them in the court of Facebook. Kids don’t just experience sibling rivalry, they develop a love-hate relationship with Mommy’s iPhone.
Is any of this really a big deal? Aren’t there similarities in the analog world? Isn’t this just the new reality that we’ll adjust to and barely notice in 20 years, like previous generations had to with widespread car ownership and cable TV?
Maybe, but maybe not. Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a clinical psychologist, thinks our modern wi-fi gadget world is changing the way we relate to each other and, possibly worse, how we relate to ourselves.
She writes about this in her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, saying email and Facebook and the ease of connecting from a distance has made convenience and control the priority and also diminished the expectations we have of other human beings.
Michiko Kakutani reviews the book in the New York Times and says Turkle relies heavily on anecdotes to tell the store of how we interact today — and how it is leaving us less emotionally connected.
How much technology and how it is used at home is an on-going conversation in our house. My two daughters, 11 and 7, have been a part of that conversation and know that phones at our dinner table aren’t acceptable. Though, interesting, if breakfast is being served at that same table it’s open season for checking emails and messages.
I’ve also been pretty stringent on preserving the car as a kind of gadget-free space. Even on long car trips, we don’t bust out iPads or DVDs. Everyone is expected to channel their inner-1970s traveler and deal with bad FM radio and NPR.
I held out for a long time on texting, but that’s creeped into our lives lately. As has letting the kids use the iPad. Or taming a meltdown with the smart phone. We’ve done this for many reasons, some of them noble, others of them selfish.
But mostly, I think, we see that it just like Turkle argues, online life and real life are a strange mix, not as innocent and fun as we wish it was. And something that is happening fast. And can’t really move backwards once you’re in it.
What about you? How do you handle technology and the family?