Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Proximity and Technology and Relationships

People love to post quotes with pictures, also known as memes, on facebook. Today I came across this one:

We have just returned home from picking up a child who spent the past week at camp, in the wilderness, without her phone, computer, or any contact with the outside world. On that trip we drove for most of a day in remote areas with a complete lack of cellphone reception. As we drove through the mountains, I considered if I'd be happier living in the woods without technology. While it may seem attractive for a short period of time, I'm not sure I would be.

In our family we consider interactions with other people via computer or cellphone just that, interaction. Many of our friends and family live far away. Some of them we see once or twice a year. Some of them we've never met in person! And while I do not personally have a cellphone, all of the members of my family do. Knowing that cellphones are the primary means that my children have to communicate with their friends, I respect the role that cellphones play in their relationships. When we are out and about they can use cellphones to share their experiences through tweets and texts, or take pictures and share them on facebook. My oldest is the only one in the family with a smart phone, and it's not uncommon for us to ask her to look something up. In our experience, technology does not interfere with interaction when that interaction is the choice of those involved. Technology does not interfere when the members of our family are authentically engaged in an activity or outing.

When it comes to memes, anyone can compile photos that seemingly prove a point. This particular set is the typical mash up of random shots taken from unrelated places on the internet. The "frens" having coffee may be coworkers who are using a coffee break to catch up with their actual friends and family, the group on the bench may be taking time out from doing something more active to check their phones and catch their breath, the kid at the game could be texting the score to a friend who is home sick and couldn't make it to the game - or maybe he's texting his mom to let her know the game just went into overtime so he'll be later than expected, the "couple" on an "intimate date" are quite possibly two completely unconnected people who happened to be sitting near each other - their body language doesn't speak of intimacy, the people in the car - which has something covering the windshield so they are decidedly not seeing any sites except those on the internet - may possibly have been wandering around a car show for hours until they all piled into a car to sit and wait for a friend who was talking to a sales rep, and the dinner eaters don't have any food on their plates - who knows what the real story is, but I doubt it's a family meal. These pictures don't really tell us anything conclusive, the same way that just seeing a brief moment or exchange between people doesn't give us the back story or knowledge of the actual relationship between the people we observe.

While we were traveling we had lunch in a small cafe. An older gentleman came in and ordered "the usual" for himself and his dining companion who had not yet arrived. A woman walked in the door. He wrapped his arms around her from behind as she chatted with the store owner. They then sat down at a table by the window, settling in with their pencils and crossword puzzles. When their food was delivered they commented appreciatively about how quickly it was ready and then returned to their silent pursuits.

People commonly assume that people who are sitting together silently at a table at a restaurant, looking at their respective cell phones, playing Sudoku, doing crossword puzzles, or reading on their Kindle, have a poor relationship. It's easy to feel sorry for those couples who are sitting together and yet are not engaged directly with each other in conversation or physical contact. But the couple we saw at the cafe had a warm relationship, were cheerful and thoughtful, and they were enjoying a lunch together seemingly quite content with their individual crossword puzzles.

This brought to mind a quote from my husband's book, Radical Family! Parenting: A Guide for Parenting with Compassion, Honesty, Respect and Unconditional Love, "What separates Proximity from the other parenting tools is it can be used to enhance relationships without direct interactions. Being in the same room without speaking to your child can enhance your relationship. Proximity is especially helpful when your child is focusing and/or wanting some space from others. Reading a book in the living room while your child is surfing the internet is Proximity. Sitting next to your child and watching a television show together is Proximity. Knocking on the door of your child's bedroom to say hello and deliver snacks is Proximity. At its core, Proximity is being around and available without directly involving yourself in your child's activity. Proximity is often useful with tweens and teens. As a child gets older, he or she often has a personal life and interests that he or she wants to explore without parents involved. Proximity is also a good place to begin if you are starting Radical Family! Parenting in a strained relationship with your child. Being in the same area may lead to other opportunities for relationship building."

Technology can be wonderfully useful when we spend time in proximity to our family members. Right now I'm sitting on the bed typing this post, while my husband is reading his brother's latest novel, Reapers, the fourth book in his Breakers series. We are enjoying being together in the quiet of our room, both engaged in something we enjoy doing. Our cat is also practicing proximity, she's nestled between us, glad to have us home after a three day absence. At the same time our girls are in the next room watching a TV show on Netflix together, enjoying reconnecting after the return of our camper. And, while they watch, it's likely that our oldest daughter is texting her boyfriend, allowing her to feel connected to him without detracting in anyway from the time she's spending with her sisters. We are all a bit worn out from the last week and this time spent near each other, enjoying the many wonders of technology, is a way for all of us to feel connected without any need for deep meaningful conversations or mentally taxing games.

I just don't see technology creating a generation of idiots. For our family, technology may enhance or facilitate interaction. It also fuels our curiosity and supports us in exploring the world. After our trip this weekend, I got up the next morning and looked up the difference between biome and ecosystem. After my daughter returned home from camp she was greeted by new friend requests on facebook and photos being posted online of her adventures.

We may not be sitting together listening to a radio show, we may not be huddled around the firelight darning clothes, and we're way past painting stories of the hunt on the cave walls. That's to be expected. Time passes and how we spend our time together changes. One way isn't better than another, but the old ways are no longer necessary. Trying to force-ably recreate the past is not going to increase our family's peace and harmony. We live in a time when we can communicate in real time with people in outer space! Technology provides us with the opportunity to become life long friends with people we may never meet in person. The ways we can interact with others have multiplied, and that in no way decreases our interactions or our intelligence, it expands our world!

Side Note (well, more of a footnote, really): Technology allows us to verify all kinds of information. For example you may be wondering if Albert Einstein was really the author of the above quote. A quick search, using technology, shows that skepticism was warranted.  Ah the irony when the very people who post memes about technology creating a generation of idiots fail to use the technology available to verify the accuracy of the information they present.

The Quote Investigator says, "In conclusion, QI believes that Albert Einstein did not write or say any of the three variant quotations. Individuals who were aggravated by the behavior patterns of cell phone users probably facilitated the construction, evolution, and dissemination of this meme. The phrasing of the saying has changed over time and different sets of pictures have been attached. QI hypothesizes that the origination date was recent, perhaps as late as 2012. The efforts of the creators have been successful for now. The basic saying has achieved viral status with its dubious ascription.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. Many thanks. I always get a bit annoyed at "those" sort of photo's and quotes but find it hard to find the words to explain why. You've said it beautifully.