Does technology bring families together? Or could it actually be pushing us apart? Having a husband who works in the telecommunications industry means that our house possibly has more laptops, phones and things with screens than the average home. It also means that our kids have been able to become IT savvy in a way those of us born in the ’60s could only dream of.
I remember starting work for a shelving & racking company in the late 1980s and finding a brand new word processor sat on a desk with a dust cover on it because nobody knew how to use it. I also remember the thrill of moving from a black and white television to a colour one. Yes, I am that, er, mature.
Technology has become so ingrained in our daily lives that we barely look up from our mobiles to see what’s going on.
Last weekend, I attended a blogging event at a local hotel. This was basically three tables of women all looking at their phones and photographing each other. We are all now apparently obsessed with recording every detail of our lives to make it look #instacool.
And it’s the same for kids. Every restaurant, waiting room, in fact anywhere where people congregate will contain parents looking at their phones and children being kept mute by an iPad or Nintendo DS.
On the other hand, there is no denying that social media is a great uniter of people. How many of us now talk to friends and relatives we have lost touch with over the years? We can keep in touch via SKYPE. There is actually, today, no excuse NOT to keep in touch. And, conversely, no hiding place if you embrace as many social media platforms as I do.
The dark side of this is the danger it puts our children in. The temptation for parents to avoid the minimum age for Facebook is strong (it’s 13 by the way) – and I know parents who start accounts in, say the pet’s name so that the child can have a social media presence.
Peer pressure is usually cited as the reason the child has to have a presence. Cyberbullying is a growing problem as is sexting with children as young as 11 and 12 sending indecent pictures of themselves, not realising that these snaps will never vanish from the internet.
Then there’s the pressure from children to have a mobile phone. The jury is still out on whether or not mobiles can cause brain cancer but the advice is not to let children have mobiles near their still-developing brains. Because we play on our phones we think of them are toys. But toys they most certainly are not.
Parents need a new set of skills to teach children how to deal with these issues – not always so easy when you are not particularly good at understanding social media yourself.
We are being forced to address issues such as sex education and pornography much earlier than in previous decades. In many ways, our children’s innocence is being eroded by the advancement of technology and it is becoming harder to protect them.
In the evening, how many families now sit around a dining table to eat together and talk about their day?
And how many are sat on sofas in front of the TV? When the kids are in bed, having spent the last hour of the day on their iPads or gaming in their bedrooms, how many couples sit and chat and how many have a PC on their lap and are in their own social media worlds? I have to confess that the Husband and I are guilty of this.
We know that excessive screen use before bed interferes with our ability to go to sleep and that’s without the stress of exposure to bad news on TV or the pressures of work and school.
There’s no denying that technology has revolutionised almost every aspect of our daily lives. Our kitchens are groaning with gadgets to make food production quicker. We have fridge/freezers you could hide an ox in. Our cars are now basically mobile computers which move fast. We read books on a screen. Films and TV are always available on our phones.
But what are we doing with the time we’ve saved?
Mostly spending more time on the internet, creating our own little worlds where interaction seems real, but is not. Where we kid ourselves we have lots of friends and followers, many of whom we will never meet and who certainly would not recognise us in the street.
And we are teaching our kids that this is an effective use of their spare time, instead of playing with them, talking to them, encouraging them to play outside. We are failing to teach them the skill of making ‘real’ friends, making small talk and taking an interest in what is really going on in their lives.
I have a love/hate relationship with technology. It’s brought me great friends and great experiences. But I am well aware that this has come at a cost, that cost being less time spent with my kids creating memories in the real, rather than the virtual, world.
I think we need to learn how to control the technology in our lives before it starts to control us. And, given Professor Stephen Hawking‘s fear, voiced just yesterday, that we need to get to grips with Artificial Intelligence before it out-thinks humans, now may be a very good time indeed to switch off and have a reboot – in the good old-fashioned sit-down-with-the-kids-and-chat type of way.
This article first appeared as a guest post for Hello Mamas, the US mum-meet-mum website.