Live vs. Digital Connections -- The Debate Rages On
Heading to work very early one recent morning to get a jump on a major project for a client, I listened on my car radio to the NPR report: "How Our Digital Devices are Affecting our Personal Relationships." I called my husband, who was still at home and I knew was still listening to NPR -- his morning ritual -- to ask what he thought of this report.
"Well, I'm looking at the telephone screen so I can communicate with you," was his semi-sarcastic response, knowing I was trying to make the point that we all need to be sensitive to our human interactions and step away from the screens from time to time to do this.
Part of NPR's current series on "Our Digital Lives," it was an interesting report that referenced children's reactions to their parents' being distracted from watching their sporting events or talking with them at the dinner table because they are reacting to emails from work or other digital distractions.
MIT professor and author, Sherry Turkle, is quoted in the article.
“They complain about parents picking them up at school and not making eye contact with them until they finish the last email,” she says. And she says parents attending sporting events often miss their child’s important play because they have been checking email.
Turkle adds that many young people feel they have to compete for their parents’ attention.
“Adolescent men complain about how they used to love watching Sunday sports with their dads, and now dads are on their iPhones or laptops and they are completely sucked into the Internet space.”
I have to add an aside on this that I studied some of Turkle's writing on communications when I was in college many years ago, so she definitely comes at this new digital age from a different generational viewpoint. Interestingly, the author of this NPR piece tapped as an alternate view on this issue a researcher from Microsoft, Nancy Baym (who, full disclosure, is the generation behind me, but not a digital native, by any means). Baym says, "research suggests that digital communications enhance relationships" and that “the evidence consistently shows that the more you communicate with people using devices, the more likely you are to communicate with those people face to face.”
She adds, "every new technology raises the fear that we will lose or lessen our human connections, but that we eventually figure out how to adapt."
Given Baym's affiliation, I'm not surprised by this view. After all, Microsoft wants everyone to continue to be connected and to buy technology. However, I did appreciate her attempt to not damn all of these "newfangled devices" and to look for the good as well as the bad of what the NPR piece described as our "Internet addiction."
It's an ongoing debate and, like many major changes in communications, it will evolve and settle down as we all become accustomed to having all of this access at our fingertips.
I tend to agree with Baym that the Internet and social channels and mobility help me stay connected to more friends and colleagues -- and certainly support my business connectivity in a major way. But I do get Turkle's point about making sure they don't substitute for human communication on the family front. There are a number of photos right now on my cell phone that one or another child has captured at a family dinner of one of the participants focused on their mobile device rather than on their table-mates.
What do you all think? Are we slaves to connectivity and mobility or are we freed by it?