A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
I have written several times in the last four years about the ever increasing reality of the impact technology is having on our kids. I have also written of the fabulous times we have enjoyed on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. This posting combines both.
When speaking of technology I always feel the need to make the obligatory disclaimers. I am no Luddite; like you, I use the wonderful technological tools at our disposal and depend on them daily for work, pleasure, and convenience. They are a marvelous source of productivity, exploration, education, and musical enjoyment for me and my family. But like anything, technology can be over-used, and is I fear, enormously over used by so many young people. The incredible combination of heretofore unimagined power and portability is making these products little more than electronic appendages for so many. Aristotle taught of The Golden Mean, and that anything excessively used or indulged in becomes by defintion, a negative influence. It is time to remember the Great Master's lesson when we consider this topic.
I believe that our young people's use of technology has addicted them; addicted them to a point where many are all but bereft without it. For those who think I exaggerate, and there are many, I point to the growing body of study in the socio-psychological community that openly speaks of "electronic addiction". And I further note the words of a brilliant educator and journalist I had the pleasure of hearing speak last year, who claimed, "technology is destroying the wisdom of antiquity, and slowly destroying our kids' ability to think". This man is no political reactionary given to the spouting of apoclyptic warnings. He is a highly educated, extremely intelligent man who travels the country, writing erudite books and lecturing on campuses. Lastly, I have offered a simple litmus test to those who believe such concerns to be overstated: Take away your child's technology for a weekend, and observe the results. For the people who have taken the suggestion, many have been very alarmed at the results.
It is certainly not the use of technology per se that is at issue, for there is a multitude of uses that are all to the good. It is the amount of that usage, the level of reliance upon it, and what it crowds out of their lives in terms of other, more wholesome and eddifying activities. In their quest to remain "connected", they are too often becoming disconnected from themselves, from each other, and from many of the formative thoughts and emotions that are a rite of passage, and an essential component of their transition to adulthood. They may know more about what their friends are DOING than we ever did at that age, but do they know more about their FRIENDS; who they are, what they are struggling with; what they believe, their victories and defeats? Do they work through such things, when so much of their interaction is limited to twelve word Tweets? They are more "equipped" with tools than we ever were at their age, but how are these tools equipping them to grow and mature? And what is the "sub-language" of texted and Tweeted communication, with all of its acronyms, abbreviations, and made up words, doing to their ability to absorb, discern, and transmit information cogently?
Now back to the Michigan connection to this story..............My family vacations on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan every summer. My brother-on-law lives there; a magical place of such exqusitely tangible beauty that to the extent the heart of our family can reside in a physical place, it is surely there.
We had just come in from a glorious sail on "The Big Lake". We moored the boat, and were relaxing on its deck; enjoying a libation as we watched the indescribale texture of a sunset over Lake Michigan and listening to the happy chatter of our kids, as our son dove off the boat about four hundred times. My eyes wandered down to the large patio-deck of the Inn, where I observed a group of nine teenagers. There they sat, surrounded by some of the most stunningly beautiful surroundings on the Continent. There they sat, with waterfront, volleyball, shuffle board, and a sunset Raphael could not have captured all resplendent before their eyes. There they sat, surrounded by the pleasure of their own company..........
..................And there they sat, staring into the shimmering green screens they held in their hands; oblivious to everything other than whatever information and imagery those screens were transmitting.
It doesn't mean those kids were lousy kids; on the contrary, they were probably fine young people. They were connected to the world. They were connected to the most current information. They were connected to everything.
Everything of course, except the feast of nature spread about before them, and the reflections and conversations to which that display might have led. Everything but the sound of the waves lapping lazily against the bows of the boats, the lines straining with their happy task of securing the vessels. Disconnected from all of the magical sights, sounds, smells, and mysteries that is a harbor full of lighted boats at day's end.
They were connected to everything except each other.
They were in fact as DISCONNECTED as any group of young people I have ever seen.
And it broke my heart.