Had a disagreement with my oldest daughter this week — actually more a full-blown fight — over her deep attachment to her smartphone. It ended in a moment of parental insanity with the digital device being pitched over the backyard fence.
Clearly, I used a little more force than needed. Instead of landing in the short grass in the backyard as I intended, the phone found the deep grasses on the steep slope on the other side. We haven’t found it yet.
Both my daughter and wife are still glaring at me darkly, convinced I lack necessary elements of judgment and self-control. They are probably right, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Instead, I want to ponder what it is about digital devices and social media that bother me so much. Why do I fight so hard to keep my daughter’s thumbs off of her texting keyboard? Why do I care if Facebook draws her like a moth to a light bulb?
There is no question, our world is different today as a result of social media. Networks like Facebook, Twitter and many others have changed the way our society thinks, at least in the social sense. Just this week, Facebook signed up its one billionth member. It’s boggling to contemplate.
We have huge electronic networks of friends now. For some people, their networks become their chief means of social interaction with others. The trouble is, electronic connections are nothing but illusions.
When we connect with “friends” electronically, we interact with cold glowing pixels in an LCD screen manipulated by hard plastic keys. There is no person there, really. No flesh and blood, no warmth. It is a connection that mimics a relationship but only in the most superficial kind of ways.
On Facebook, people aren’t shy. They have time to think about the perfect thing to say, the right way to respond. There are no awkward silences. People create digital representations of themselves that accord with an internal vision they have, a version they have complete control over. They can hide behind a mask.
To put it simply — socializing with social media isn’t real. It’s a fantasy.
And yet, Facebook has become a social necessity, to the point people who do not have online personas for the world to find and view are viewed with squinty eyes. No Facebook? Must be something off about that dude. It seems sad to me.
Which brings me back to my children. I pushed hard to keep my oldest off of Facebook (and my youngest is still not there) but our culture pushed harder and it won. It’s a pointless battle, to some extent. I know I can’t deny them their reality, which as much as I don’t like the idea, incorporates a digital universe.
But I don’t want them to learn social skills mostly from a device either. I want them to interact with others the way we had to, in person, with all the risks and rewards such interactions bring. I also want them to know how to be alone, to be happy and comfortable with no company but themselves, something they seemingly never have to do when Facebook is a click away.
There is value in building and maintaining real, crazy, out-of-control connections with flesh-and-blood people. We are human, after all, not 1s and 0s.
I hope we never find that phone.