I’m sitting outside on a glorious unusually warm March day writing. When I was a kid, the only options for writing were pen and paper. My only options for reading were books or newspapers held in my hand. The only option to communicate with my friends was to go over to their house or call them on the phone.
How times have changed.
Now I never use a pen and paper, and to be frank it feels foreign when I do. I still read some books the old fashioned way and get the Sunday New York Times, but otherwise my reading is all done digitally. I text or email rather than call most of the time and spend a tremendous amount of time in front of some device or another.
My kids, though, are even more integrated with technology and even as a geek girl and techno junkie, I have worried over time that something will get lost in the translation. Apparently my fear is justified.
“Digital natives” are people who have grown up with technology as an integrated part of their life from the get go. We’ve all seen the toddler who can barely walk unlock an iPhone and start tapping for an app. We’ve all seen children who at 3 are more comfortable with using a mouse than we are and who at 16 can code and write programs we can’t even conceive of. It’s not all a bad thing, of course, but there is growing evidence that these digital natives are not as adept at reading people, a huge important part of life in work and relationships. Their ability to read non-verbal cues is rudimentary and their ability to appear engaged by making eye contact and giving other non-verbal cues themselves is severely limited.
I know that I have suggested media-free time with your children for a whole host of reasons and with the integration of technology at school for most kids, they often aren’t getting much of a break even there. How are we as a society going to adapt to this shift in awareness? Will we have classes in high school not for typing or basic computer skills like my school had but instead classes to teach how to interact with each other to show attention, respect and interest in others?
I think that as we shifted toward technology, we encouraged a disconnection from each other in ways that is hard to teach. Perhaps recognizing this side effect of technology use will allow us to craft a solution. Whether it’s turning off devices and having actual conversations or even using technology through video connections to forward relationships in a more “face-to-face” way, adapting to the change and compensating for it are essential to ensure that real connections between people aren’t to go the way of the buffalo.