On Wednesday morning, Eleanor was contently playing with some toys on her blanket. After grabbing my coffee, I flipped open my laptop to quickly check my email inbox. Only two new emails popped up, so I decided to check Facebook. After looking at random status updates and photos, I clicked on my friend, Holli’s, new post on her blog. She included a link to an American Public Media interview with Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. I clicked on the link to start listening to the interview, and went back to checking Facebook while I listened. But, suddenly something Turkle said made me stop, look at my daughter, and close my laptop.
Tippett (interviewer): “We talked a minute ago about somehow carving out in your child’s life an experience of solitude so that they know how to be alone, and this idea of being present, but if we ourselves are not modeling those possibilities…”
Turkle: “Absolutely. I mean, I think the greatest gift you can give your child is to walk out of the house without your phone. I mean, to pick up the newspaper, to pick up the bagel, to go out for coffee. Don’t take your phone. Show your child what that looks like, that you’re willing to step out of the house not open for communication…You know, I’m not like a romantic or I don’t have like a crazy nostalgia for, you know, an unplugged life, you know in cabins in the woods, not at all. I’m just saying that we have to ask ourselves really what is served by having an always-on, always-on you, open-to-anyone-who-wants-to-reach-us way of life? Because in my research, I’ve found that it actually cuts off conversations as much as it opens out conversations.”
I realized in that moment that as I interacted with technology in front of Eleanor, she was watching and learning from me. Not only that, I realized that a quick checking of my inbox had easily led me to spend over a half hour on my computer while Eleanor played by herself. Is it a negative thing to spend time on the computer in front of your child? Absolutely not. Technology is very much a part of the world we live in and our children should be exposed to it. However, Turkle’s comments made me consider how much I am using technology in front of my daughter.
How often does she observe me text, talk on the phone, surf the web, check Facebook, watch Youtube, pin to Pinterest, upload photos, and post to my blog? In using technology am I cutting off conversation in real life with my daughter in exchange for opening up digital conversation with Facebook friends? What is the cost of this over time? Are there consequences?
I spend about an hour or two a day on my computer or phone. I often feel a compulsive need to keep abreast of all the Facebook updates, new blog posts, and text messages. At times, I think this does keep me from being fully present with my daughter and husband. When my computer screen is between me and my family, I am missing out on being fully there with them.
All of this has just given me food for thought. I am still going to be a part of the digital world as it is an important part of living in today’s culture. I am still going to use technology in front of Eleanor and when she gets older I will show her how to use it herself. At the same time, I am now sensitive and aware of the amount I choose technology over time with my family.
At the end of her book Turkle quotes Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.” Then Turkle writes, [Thoreau’s quest] “inspires us to ask of our life with technology: Do we live deliberately? In other words, what is the path, beyond opting out, to integrating technology into genuinely robust, meaningful living?”
Certainly as parents who want to leave a legacy of faith in Christ with our children, we must “live deliberately” as Turkle suggests. We have limited hours with our families, limited hours to talk and share and laugh and create memories with them. We have limited hours to pray and worship and read our Bibles with our children. If you’re at all like me, technology can sometimes get in the way of that.
Perhaps this week, we could all make one small step to “live deliberately” so that we can have more time to leave a legacy. Maybe that’s leaving your cell phone in another room during dinnertime, reading a book with your child instead of reading blogs, or doing a craft with your little one instead of pinning on Pinterest. I’m not sure what this will look like for you and your family, but it seems this is an issue that we are all going to have to think about more as the digital world becomes more ingrained in our family culture.
So, in summary remember…technology is good. We will and should use it in front of and with our children. We should also monitor when it is coming between us and our family and keeping us from spending concentrated time leaving a legacy of faith with our children.
Listen to the full interview with Dr. Sherry Turkle.