October 19, 2012

A culture of distraction

Spending a lot of time in, with, and in front of family audiences, I have noticed the emergence over the years of a new family member--one who gets more attention not just than the event at hand, but gets more attention than the children.  I am talking about the cell phone.  Whereas I used to observe children and parents having experiences together, with the adults supporting various activities by watching along, pointing out things, and creating a shared experience with the child, now it seems more & more that adults are entertaining themselves on their electronic devices, leaving the kids "virtually unattended."

Observing these instances regularly, of course I was interested in the interview presented yesterday (Thursday, October 18, 2012) on NPR's "Fresh Air."  Terry Gross interviewed Sherry Turkle, described as "a clinical psychologist and the founder of MIT's Initiative on Technology and Self. Her research investigates how devices are changing the way parents relate to their children, how friends interact, and why many people — both young and old — keep their devices in-hand all the time — even as they sleep."  Turkle's latest book, just out in paperback, is entitled, Alone TogetherWhy We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

From the beginning of the interview, where Sherry Turkle talks about how electronic devices are shoehorning their way into what used to be family time:

"...my field work has shown... that... from the minute children met this technology, it was the competition...on playgrounds... parents are texting and on cell phones as their kids play on the jungle gyms & the swings, and parents text during breakfast & dinner as their children beg them for attention, parents text at games when the kids are on the playing field, often missing the big score, parents are on the phone in cars, & the kids are left to text in the back seat...instead of having those precious moments...  to talk to your kids on the way to school..."

Have you had similar observations?  If you are concerned, what do you think can be done--and if you are not concerned--why not?

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