Can We Please Stop with the Technology Shaming/Scolding?

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What is this guy looking at, the world?

Okay, we’ve probably all seen it by now, the latest viral video making the rounds telling us how we are missing our lives, becoming hermits, incapable of “real” relationships and becoming less socially adept because of smart phones, Facebook and twitter. If you have yet to see the latest one (in a long line of them), you can watch it here. My favorite part about these memes and videos is the sheer irony of them being made specifically for people to post and share…ON SOCIAL MEDIA. WITH THEIR SMARTPHONES!

But first, a disclaimer: This post is not a rebuttal of Mr. Turk’s video. Nor is my intent to say we do not need to put down our technology and spend time with people face to face. It is important NOT to prioritize online activity over your partner, children, friends or other relationships. This post is  however a plea for us to stop picking at the speck in our neighbor’s eye while we have a plank in our own; for us to keep the baby and pitch the bath water; to eat the fish and discard the bones. As with so many things in life it all comes down to how you relate to something more than the thing itself.

Throughout human history people have loved scolding each other and themselves about the use of the latest technology.  Consider the following about the automobile:

The regime of mass car use is an offshoot of our historical aversion to civility itself. The car allows Americans to persist in the delusion that civic life is unnecessary. As a practical matter, this regime is putting us out of business as a civilization.  -James Howard Kunstler

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles…With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization — that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls… I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones…I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to be invented.’”  -Booth Tarkington

Every man on horseback is an arrogant man, however gentle he may be on foot. The man in the automobile is one thousand times as dangerous. I tell you, it will engender absolute selfishness in mankind if the driving of automobiles becomes common. It will breed violence on a scale never seen before. It will mark the end of the family as we know it…It will destroy the sense of neighborhood and the true sense of Nation.  -R.A. Lafferty

Cars, air travel, the telephone, the newspaper, the radio, electric lighting: They all were said to be the end of civilization as we know it. And you know what? They were. Everything ever invented and everyone ever born changes the world as we know it. Change is continually happening and continually feared. All these inventions plus computers, iPads, smartphones, televisions, texting and social media have the potential to be used for positive or negative ends. JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE. What is important is how we relate to these things individually and collectively. Listen, our phones are no different when it comes to the commuters in the picture at the top of this post than newspapers were to an earlier generation. Look at this picture…BOOM. Historied.

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What is this women looking at, the world?

We humans enjoy beating ourselves up for things. It makes us feel better somehow to practice self-flagellation (extreme punishment or criticism of oneself) even when we have done nothing wrong. We watch a video or read a meme about how [fill in the blank] is ruining society and we think, yeah that’s bad often without actually examining ourselves or the facts. My friend Michelle A. posted a great reaction to the Gary Turk video a couple days ago in which she said,

Facebook has changed my life for the better. I have used it to encourage others, stay in touch with people I would have otherwise lost, tell funny stories and share pictures with family and friends. I have prayed with people over the phone I have met up with people I hadn’t seen in 15 years and we don’t miss a beat because we know each other’s Facebooks. I have logged my sons special moments I have had spirited debates and long phone calls and loved the downtrodden. It is growing my business so I can change my family tree. I put down the phone and my kids play outside, play with play dough, take walks, see friends and have fun. It’s not the app that’s the problem. It’s user error. To those with a dramatic goodbye letter to Facebook I shrug my shoulders.

Another friend, Matt eloquently pointed out (also on Facebook btw),

With all due respect to Gary Turk and his “Look Up” video, the reality may not be as simple as he puts it. Take, for instance, these Pew Survey results: “The average user of a social networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American.”

Let’s have a look-see at those Pew Survey results, shall we?

Controlling for other factors we found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users.

We looked at how much total support, emotional support, companionship, and instrumental aid adults receive. On a scale of 100, the average American scored 75/100 on a scale of total support, 75/100 on emotional support (such as receiving advice), 76/100 in companionship (such as having people to spend time with), and 75/100 in instrumental aid (such as having someone to help if they are sick in bed).

Internet users in general score 3 points higher in total support, 6 points higher in companionship, and 4 points higher in instrumental support. A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional 5 points higher in total support, 5 points higher in emotional support, and 5 points higher in companionship, than internet users of similar demographic characteristics. For Facebook users, the additional boost is equivalent to about half the total support that the average American receives as a result of being married or cohabitating with a partner.

In addition to all that Facebook users have revived more dormant relationships. As is often the case, there is so much more to things than meets the eye. So perhaps we should do ourselves and our friends a favor the next time we feel the need to pass along a “convicting”, tisk-tisk, fear-mongering or guilt inducing meme/video and examine our motives. Evaluate our relationships to the people in our lives. Ask for their input. Make adjustments if necessary. But perhaps we should not assume that everyone has a problem just because we do. Maybe we shouldn’t pass something on just because it makes us seem more evolved (Sometimes that backfires and just makes one look like one of those people who dislikes something because it is popular. Not unlike the Michael Jackson backlash after Thriller when I was in junior high or the way some of the hipsters of today reject something popular just to seem cooler than thou). Or maybe we should cut each other a little slack. Stop hating on each other. Stop shaming each other (or our kids) every time we look at our phones. Instead what if we could teach our kids how to have a healthy relationship to their tech by modeling a healthy relationship to our tech. And lastly I hope we can all agree to stop saying, “Those aren’t ‘real’ relationships.” Because, they are. Social media are certainly not the only way nor should they be the only way we connect to, relate or are there for each other. They are also not always the best way (although when I needed a bed for a teenager who was staying with us for six months I had offers for about 10 within 30 minutes of putting it online). In the end however, social networks, smart phones and iPads are a valid and often effective way to meet, connect, reconnect, reach out, ask for help and/or offer help. Let’s make sure we are using them for good rather than abandoning them or demonizing them out of fear.

 

Below you will find some excellent articles on the positive effects social media are having on teens specifically.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/05/teens-social-networking-good-for-them

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-j-siegel-md/why-our-teenagers-feel-connect-on-social-media_b_4480817.html

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/21/living/social-media-positives-teens-parents/

http://www.parentfurther.com/technology-media/social-networking/benefits

And yes, I wrote about something similar a while back…https://wordofawoman.com/2013/10/10/the-e-villes-of-smartphones-and-social-media/

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The E-villes of Smartphones and Social Media

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Is it just me or does it bug anyone else when people share memes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest (or some other social media site) that say things like “This used to be social networking.” and then show a bunch of people sitting outside chatting around a campfire or having dinner together or hanging out drinking coffee? Ironically they are likely sharing these using the *gasp* that necessary evil…the smart phone. [cue foreboding music]

Last time I checked Facebook, people still go camping, sit around the fire pit on their patio with friends and talk, still go out to eat (actually probably more than before social media was invented) and I don’t know about you but every time I go to Starbucks there is always a line and the place is chock full of real live people having real live conversations. In fact, I personally know lots of people (one of them named me) that use social media to arrange to meet people for said, coffee, dinner or hang out time. Most of the people I know are going to concerts, traveling, meeting for a beer, going to the movies or participating in the Tough Mudder with other real live people. Know how I know? I usually see pictures, a check in or a call for more people to join the team…where? On said (anti)social media. (see what I did there?)

I mean who among us has missed the Louis C.K. anti smartphone diatribe on the Conan O’Brien show? If you haven’t seen it you can watch it here.

It is all about how smart phones are toxic, “especially for kids”. (we must save the children!) To hear him tell it, smartphones have a life of their own and cause people to do evil things. First, Louis believes that smart phones are making kids less empathetic. For my money, kids are exactly the same as I remember them when I was growing up. I have two kids (who both own phones – in the interest of full disclosure) and they are both kind and funny and have actual friends that they do actual things with. Louis makes the point that it is easier for kids to say mean things online where they can’t see the other kid’s face and maybe that is true. But here is the thing…mean kids are mean kids and they don’t just say mean things online. It is not as though, if smartphones and the internet didn’t exist these kids would have been kind, handholding, Kumbaya singing peaceniks. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in the 70s and 80s before everyone had a smart phone and most of the people I talk to who are my age or older were bullied by someone at some point. Does social media make it easier to be mean on a bigger scale? You bet. Is this the phone’s fault or even Facebook’s fault? Not by a long shot.

Next Louis argues that phones have taken away our ability to just sit still and be ourselves. Only if you let them. Listen, I love my iPhone, my iPad and my laptop. I am also a big fan of the social media. But my phone does not tell me who I am, it merely reflects who I am. If you are a selfish narcissistic ass, social media will probably showcase that.  If you are a politically active person, it will probably show that, etc., ad nauseum. I think sometimes we dislike social media because it can reveal a side of ourselves we prefer not to admit we have. It is sort of like being a parent. Sometimes when I am getting on to one of my kids about a flaw I perceive in something they have done or neglected to do, I have an “aha” moment where I realize the reason why I find that particular behavior vexing is because I see it in myself, too. And in that moment I blame my kid for all my inadequacies. Um, NO! Why? Because my shortcomings are not my kid’s issue. They are mine. Just as my neuroses are not because of social media, they are just reflected in it.

Louis also says we use our phones to combat the feeling that we are alone, to distract us from our sadness so that we don’t feel it in the same way. He talks about sadness being poetic, he says we are lucky to live sad moments, that we should stand in the way of them and let them hit us like a truck. Then he says something any person who has ever been truly sad knows is bullshit…”When you let yourself feel sad, your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness.” All, ladies and gentlemen, because he didn’t pick up his cell phone when he started feeling sad listening to Jungleland.  While it is true we should not laugh in the face of what sorrow brings, have any of you actually been able to overcome profound sadness by hopping on Facebook for 5 minutes or tweeting? Probably not. I know I haven’t. But what social media has done for me in times of sadness is actually to show me I am not alone. It has allowed others to reach out to me. It has helped me feel connected. I personally think that is a good thing.

Does social media have the ability to hurt people? Sure, as much as any other way we as humans have devised to communicate.

Lastly, Louis asserts that because of phones we never feel completely sad or completely happy, “you just feel kind of satisfied with your products and then you die”. I have news for Louis C.K.: People have looked for ways to numb themselves to their pain for as long as there have been people and pain. Do some people use their phones to numb out? Sure. Does that make phones evil? Personally, I don’t think so.

I have seen this interview on Conan posted over and over…ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I see the memes about how much better life was and how much more connected we were before social media…ON SOCIAL MEDIA. And of course, I see statuses that say things about how social media makes them angry, or cynical or depressed…ON SOCIAL MEDIA.  May I humbly suggest to us all that perhaps the smartphones and the social media sites are not the problem; perhaps the way we are relating to them is.