The need to stay disconnected

It’s a mystery to me why adolescents (of all ages) feel this need to be continually connected to the World Wide Spider Web.

When I write these words I picture myself tied down to a man-sized globe by hundreds of filaments. Seriously, what is the point? If a man’s journey through life is supposed to bring him wisdom, then wandering through the clutter of irrelevant, false, trivial and misleading internet postings is certainly the wrong road to take.

Why is it that so few people bother to ask the essential question: connected to what? I made the mistake of signing up for Facebook at the prompting of a former student in Tanzania. I am now apparently “friends” with dozens of people around the globe whom I don’t know. In what now seems the distant past, I used to send out handwritten letters with artwork on the envelopes. How could I have gone so far wrong as to be blogging and emailing and reading news equivalent to the “rags” at the grocery checkout?

OK, leave me alone and I promise to reform. In the meantime, what about our children? In San Jose recently at a coffee shop, I saw a very young child with a pacifier operating a smartphone (at least he wasn’t drinking a latte or a cappuccino). Where have we gone wrong?

Picture this: five 12-year-olds who are best friends in the real world as well as on twitter, text (Or is it tweet?) each other hundreds of times each day. Their lives have been taken over by nearly meaningless sound bites and they are forging a collective identity.

Judgment call: this is not a good thing. After several months of bonding, the students are given a personality test. The difference in their personalities and lifestyle preferences is almost nonexistent. Are they unwittingly training themselves to be unquestioning worker bees? And have they achieved the true purpose of growing up — the promise to be employees with remarkably skilled opposable thumbs?

In contrast, perhaps it is better to be alone sometimes to read, to think, to listen to music, to dream of a better world, to work toward a personal dream, to be outdoors, to ask questions, to marvel at the beauty and complexity of life, to love and be loved and to not give in to all the forces in our society that seek, like a math formula, to reduce us to a new kind of robo-human yet to be imagined.

Why do parents buy electronic devices for their children? Some families spend hundreds of dollars a month so they “can stay connected” with their children. If that were the real reason, a simple flip phone would do. What is really happening is that parents are giving in to children’s peer pressure, advertising demands and the mistaken idea that they have to keep their children entertained.

Let them be bored occasionally. It will lead to creativity. Allow them to be more independent and responsible for their own lives. Encourage them to be different. Give them real tools and the materials to build things. Keep a constant supply of new books on hand. Play sports with them. Encourage slightly crazy talk at the dinner table. Do not buy them video games.

They will forgive you.

— Warren Carlson lives in Medford.

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