A recent New York Times article and YouTube video I Forgot My Phone left me wondering, how much of life are we missing out on when we are constantly turning our attention to that little screen? How often are we truly present where we are? Our minds are usually taking us elsewhere --- wandering back into our past or worrying about the future. It is a challenge for us to reign in our active minds and be fully present where we are. Now, with the help of technology, it has become easier and easier to be where we are not. We don't need the torrent of our thoughts to take us elsewhere, we have the help of our smartphones to whisk us away. How often do we feel a slight moment of boredom and immediately jump on our smartphones to avoid that brief moment of mental stillness? Instead of enjoying a momentary quiet interlude, we immediately look up the latest news stories, check in to see what our friends are doing on Facebook, or reply to our endless stream of emails. How often do we "leave" the people we are with to chat with, Instagram, or email those who are somewhere else? I am all for keeping in touch and social media is a wonderful way to stay connected, but I think it is important to remind ourselves and our children that we need to enjoy where we are and who we are with by resisting that ever present temptation to jump into the electronic cyberworld of being elsewhere.
How often have you been in a restaurant and watched a family eating "together" -- one child watching a DVD, a teenager texting friends and parents checking their email? Are they really enjoying each other's company or merely occupying space next to one another while engaging with someone or something elsewhere? The average teenager writes over 3,000 texts per month. With the soaring popularity of other forms of social media, their options are vast to live in a virtual world of communicating with a screen instead of with the people next to them. I wonder if our children are learning the art of conversation or merely mastering the art of internet slang? Will they learn to use their imagination and creativity in the face of a moment of boredom or merely power on when they want to disengage ? Do they know how to connect through eye contact or just through Instagram? Imagine what they could do with all of the time they spend on their smartphones and all that they are missing right in front of them.
As parents, we spend so much time teaching our children how to be "safe" online, and are so preoccupied with checking in on their internet conversations, that we may be missing the greater lesson of teaching them to simply power off. When they are unplugged and not constantly distracted, perhaps we can teach them the importance of making face to face human connections -- how to make polite conversation, use eye contact, be a good listener. These are the elements of creating real human connections that I hope will not be lost on the next generation. In addition, we all suffer from the affects of our constant multi-tasking -- lack of focus, inability to concentrate, uncontrollable mind wandering. In our distracted and fractured culture, where we are all wired up and constantly interupted by the beeps of our electronic devices, perhaps powering off will be the best lesson of all for our children's mental and emotional well being.
Do people really need to see the dessert I am eating on vacation or an artistic picture of my shoe or one more "selfie"? Will the world end if I don't respond to an email in the middle of a dinner conversation? Am I really enjoying the concert when I am preoccupied with taking a video of it to show everyone afterwards?
So, let's try to be where we are and enjoy who we are with. It is those moments in which we are truly present that are our most precious and most meaningful moments of all.