By Karen Starns, guest blogger and friend of Simple Intentions
[Note: This post originally appeared on Medium.com]
I’ve been wrestling with my kids’ insatiable attraction to their screens and the knock on effect of less and less meaningful dialogue. Our limited time together (the kids live with their dad 50% of the time) started to feel like shared aloneness with everyone in their own mode. Car rides were accompanied with devices and ear buds, reducing communication to an occasional grunt or a request to turn the car radio down. You’d think everyone doing what they wanted — listening to their own playlist, bingeing on YouTube, playing Temple Run — would be a source of contentment. The reality, my husband and I admitted to each other, was that the kids were usually distracted and often irritable.
Over the weekend, Sherry Turkle wrote an excellent New York Times Op-Ed “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” Her piece speaks to our growing inability to have real conversations and its effect on relationships. Turkle has written about this for some time. In 2011 she authored “Alone Together,” a stark view of the shift that technology has brought into our society . The book’s subtitle, “Why we expect more from technology and less from each other” is as resonant and scary today as it was then.
Over-reliance on technology has become a source of tension at home. We realize we have been allowing our time with the kids, aged 13 and 10, to be stolen by their digital priorities. Looking in the mirror, we grownups had also fallen into the trap of filling our spare time with digital candy — satisfying in the moment, but forgotten in an instant. As a family, we were missing out on the goodness in life that doesn’t happen on a schedule.
Frank Bruni brought the idea to life in his recent New York Times Op-Ed “The Myth of Quality Time”, pointing out: “people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.”
Looking at these interrelated situations — device dependency and the loss of meaningful conversation and the need for quantity, not just quality, time — spurred our family to action. The changes we’ve made at home seem to be working.
Our first step was to do what so many other families have already done: take technology out of the kids’ rooms and into public spaces. Their devices can only be used in family areas. They are both big readers, so Kindle’s are the only exception. This initial move made a meaningful difference, especially with our 13-year old daughter, who joins us on the sofa instead of disappearing into her room for hours. To be honest, she is often there with ear buds and a steady diet of YouTube — but she is there. A few weeks in, we asked the kids what good things had come about from our decision to take technology out of the bedroom. Our daughter was the first to respond and said she found it easier to go to sleep at night — and easier to wake up. We all agreed that we liked spending more time together.
Step two helped us make even more progress. For this change, we sought buy-in from the kids. Together, we committed to detach ourselves from our phones while at home. When each person comes in the door, the phone goes in a special basket — it doesn’t stay in our hand or get tucked into a pocket. This simple (yet huge) action demonstrates our commitment to being present with each other and creates the time and space for connections to bloom or quiet thoughts to prevail. We are respectful of this new practice and are already more tuned in to each other.
Personally, I’ve made some additional changes to reclaim and repurpose time. While the lines between professional and personal online presence are blurred for many of us, I looked at how I was filling spare moments and challenged myself to decide whether it was time well spent. As a result, I’m more deliberate and focused on Twitter and LinkedIn, I’ve dropped out of Facebook, and I’ve reduced my Instagram circle to direct family. Not only have I freed up time, I have uncluttered my mind. For me there’s no downside. I don’t worry about missing out and I’m not curating my life anymore — I’m just living it.
Embracing analog occasions and being intentional about digital tools has helped make life more rich. My family’s digital reboot has already made a difference in our moods, our conversations, and the quality and quantity of time together. It’s all new, and there will be bumps along the way, but I believe we’re headed down the right path.