I recently ran across an article discussing some alarming statistics which coincide directly with the increase in smart phone use. I’ll discuss some of those statistics in a future post, but wanted to discuss the first thing that popped into my mind as I read through the article. In the digital age we live in, the ability to have a safe place is going away. With every beep, chirp, buzz, and ring of our digital devices, the ability to get away from it all erodes, and will soon be a distant memory.
I grew up in a neighborhood where all the kids played together, whether it be dodgeball in someone’s backyard, playing hide ‘n seek, or building a fort, we’d do it together. There were no cell phones, and social media was gathering in person at someone’s house or at the mall instead of going onto the internet. This doesn’t mean that everyone always got along or that teasing didn’t happen — it did. The difference is that then, if someone was being mean, or you didn’t like what was happening, you could leave. You could go to a safe place, usually your home, or if things were chaotic at home, your bedroom, or even the backyard, to get away from the situation. We built a fort, not in a tree, because my dad wouldn’t allow us to build a fort in our tree no matter HOW many times we told him it was the perfect tree for it, but in our sandbox. The sandbox was wedged in between the garage and the fence dividing our backyard from our neighbor’s. Who could resist building a fort when three of the walls were already there? All we had to do was put the second story on it, hang some “curtains” (old ratty blankets) to create the 4th wall and put a trap door in, so we could get to the top. When I needed to get away from my brothers, the fort was a good place to go read … and no one bothered me.
Today, that scenario doesn’t work as well. Why? Because of the smart phone. The shift in bullying has moved from in person to more and more happening online. And it doesn’t go away. Even if you were to shut down your device and ignore it for a while, when you turn the device back on, there it is … in your face, a constant reminder of how you think others perceive you. If you shutdown a social media site, there is always email or text. You are constantly available. Or maybe I should say you are constantly accessible. Never before in our history have we been available to others for so much of the day. There is no relief, no down time, no place where it is safe to just be.
It’s easy to say that we should simply take away the devices from our kids. It might solve some of the issues short term, but I see this as something larger than the bullying situations that occur. Because adults never have the opportunity to get away either. They never get those moments of down time, as brief as they may be. The world is at our fingertips 24/7, and for all the positives, there is a huge dark side to it.
I’ve heard people say that kids need to learn the discipline to walk away from the digital devices and shut them down. But honestly, how can we expect kids to exercise self-control in an area where we ourselves cannot. Oh, but it’s different for adults … Really??? No, it isn’t. Stress levels in adults have risen since the advent of the smart phone, we are never “off” in ways that we could be before as we carry our phones everywhere. It is an insidious addiction and I’m as guilty of the addiction as the next person. For me, the smart phone gives me access to the world outside my doors, and it is important because right now, the bulk of my human interaction must take place over the internet or via phone or text, to help keep me as healthy as possible. But the down side is a loss of focus, interruptions which were more readily blocked out before, we’re distracted all the time, and we’re losing the ability to interact in person in a meaningful way. Being disciplined about unplugging is good, but there is a down side to that as well. When I unplug, I’m completely cut off from humanity … good for the short term? Yes. But for long term, not advisable.
What’s the answer? I don’t know. What I do know, is that short of the grid going completely down, our safe place has all but disappeared.