Our family concerns may be yours, too

Author: Barrett Rainey

For several years, I’ve occasionally written somewhat lightly of concerns about our burgeoning personal electronics revolution. – what effects it may have on society in general and personal relationships in particular. Now, some recent developments in our extended family are raising those concerns to the next level – high alert!

For the record, I’m a computer and cell phone user. Daily. They’re very useful tools. I’d hate to be without either. At my late stage of life, I’m better informed, have examined greater amounts of information I’d never have been exposed to without them and have valuable links with people that would have otherwise been lost. I’m an electronics believer.

We all know the basics. Computers can elevate learning – expose us to art, music, education, entertainment experiences for a lifetime – give us access to a truly international learning opportunities. All good.

Smart phones are similarly valuable. Quick, personal links to family and friends, worldwide access to quick information sources and very helpful in most emergencies. Yep. Good things. Glad we got ‘em.

No, my increasing concerns aren’t for the effects of this battery-powered revolution on you and me. It’s for those effects on my grandkids. Your kids and grandkids. Everyone’s grandkids. What my experience tells me it’s doing to them. What it’s doing to interpersonal relationships. Or – how it’s eliminating such societal interactions.

Use of these tools can be addictive. At Christmas, I gave my mostly well-adjusted teacher-wife an iPad. I did so after a lot of forethought. And some personal angst. Knowing her constant pursuit of knowledge – her vast world of friends, associates and interests – I had some fear she would dive into her new electronically-expanded world and wouldn’t be seen again.

Well, though I still see her from time to time, I’m seeing her less post iPad. Often, when she would otherwise be reading, she’s searching for new “apps” or taking pictures of the cat. Watching TV, there’s this intermittent absence as she uses the little screen in her lap to watch or do something else. Go somewhere else. Find something else. Talk to someone else. Learn something else. Read something else.

“Nothing wrong with that,” you say. “Sounds fine with me. So what’s your problem, Rainey?”

The problem is this. She and I are at an age when – after long lives of many experiences and personal relationships – we can put these battery-powered marvels in their place and in proper perspective after a lifetime of integrating other new ideas and fashions that came along. If we chose to. We have a prior knowledge base of information and interpersonal relationships to which these new tools are added. Not used to replace. Not used “instead of.”

Kids don’t have that background. No perspective. They accept these new tools as the way things are. They learn to operate them – to use them – to live with them as the useful appendages they appear to be.

Then a parent talks of her teen coming home, closing a bedroom door and turning on a computer. Maybe for homework. Maybe not. For hours. In a fast food joint, kids texting the other kid – across the table. In a car going to school, texting from front seat to back – same car. Walking on the street, texting the kid walking with them. In a classroom, texting others in the same classroom. In all cases, building or maintaining relationships without having to relate – without knowing how to relate.

Then along comes a personal or family upheaval – an event that throws them out of their safe, non-personal environment And they can’t relate. They can’t cope. They can’t handle it. They take refuge in their “safer” world.

I wrote at the outset about some recent events in our “extended family.” That’s where these words – these fears – are based. They’ve been there – mostly third party – for years. But now it’s our teen – or teens – unable to relate face-to-face or in a world without keyboards. It’s our teen – or teens – unequipped to deal with personal trauma where touch, compassion, sharing and feeling – mostly feeling – are badly needed. It’s our teen – or teens – hiding because the sterile, electronic, impersonal relationships they’ve developed cannot help them standing next to a hospital bed or during a bad, real life personal experience.

Some will think I’m an alarmist or read these words as the rambling of an out-of-touch old-timer. But some won’t. They won’t because they see links between our experience and their own teen – or teens. They can see someone they love with constantly bowed head, starting at a little device in one hand, punching the small keys with the other. They, too, know of the closed bedroom door. The silence. They can relate. And they know – and probably love – a young person who can’t love back..

If we don’t quickly and firmly get a handle on this problem, our young families are going to live in a much different world. A world where the expressions of friendship, caring, sharing and love are going to be lost.

There may be many sounds of clicking keys. But not sounds of a lot of laughter.

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