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Wired Up and Plugged In, Today's Parents Are Too High-Tech

The New York Times is shedding light on this touchy subject in its series, Your Brain on Computers.  Their latest article, “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In,” focuses on the constant distraction Smartphones provide. 

Experts are incresingly suggesting that Smartphone users are not necessarily being the smartest parents. 

They note that “much of the concern about cellphones and instant messaging and Twitter has been focused on how children who incessantly use the technology are affected by it.  But parents’ use of such technology — and its effect on their offspring — is now becoming an equal source of concern to some child-development researchers.”

Dr. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, said she “recognizes the pressure adults feel to make themselves constantly available for work,” but added that she believes “there is a greater force compelling them to keep checking the screen.”  Yesterday, Strollerderby blogger KJ covered the first article in the Times’ technology series, which offers some explanation for that pull.

“Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.  These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.”

Thus the introduction of the term “CrackBerry.”

KJ stresses that life before Smartphones was different, though not necessarily better.  She remembers “sitting at my desk in an office tower, looking out at a sunset, and knowing that all of my friends were sharing outdoor drinks on a roof deck somewhere, while I waited for a phone call from a senior partner that never came.”  She follows that by saying, “My husband and I both canceled vacations because we couldn’t stay in touch with the office.” 

Isn’t the whole point of a vacation to stay as far away from work as possible?  The first time I went to Holland with my ex-husband, you couldn’t use cell phones internationally and there was no blogosphere.  It was pure bliss.  Sure, I’ve enjoyed sort of “live-blogging” trips since then, but it does change the experience.  Your vacation becomes less about taking a break and more about showing off to your friends in real time.  There’s no need to have friends over to look at your photo albums when they’ve already seen you surfing in Maui on Twitpic.

I was just thinking last night about how, via social networking, we are connected with so many more people than we would be without it.  Without the ease of online friendship, how many people that live far away from you could you and would you want to really keep in touch with?  Friendships lose their intensity when all you have to do to “keep in touch” with someone from the past is click LIKE on one of their status updates.  People are so omnipresent, they’re hardly there at all.

There is no doubt that technology is changing the quality of our relationships, and quality relationships with our children are the key to good parenting.  Many parents – myself included, and I don’t even have email on my BlackBerry - feel they have to choose between their devices and their kids.

Meredith Sinclair, a mother and blogger in Wilmette, Ill., ends the Times piece by saying she “established an e-mail and Internet ban between 4 and 8 p.m., and her children responded with glee. “When I told them, my 12-year-old, Maxwell, was like, ‘Yes!’,” Ms. Sinclair said.

“You can’t really do both,” she added. “If I’m at all connected, it’s too tempting. I need to make a distinct choice.”

I wrote a sort of personal technology manifesto at the beginning of the year.  Has anyone else gotten a little introspective and philosophical about their technology use?  If not, do you think it’s time?

Photo: Miguel Photo Booth via Flickr

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