Monday, April 11, 2011

On the next visit with my grandson, I'm ditching the 'smartphone'

Driving home in the rain from Seattle, the memories of the afternoon with my six-year-old grandson at a Mariners baseball game were the most vivid. We got lucky on seats at the half-filled stadium where the Mariners were getting clobbered by the Cleveland Indians. There was a rally in the seventh but not enough to over come the Indians' big lead.
Something struck me as I was thinking back on the day: How preoccupied I was with my "smartphone."
I found myself checking for e-mail messages, jumping to news items and generally NOT giving my full attention to the six-year-old who was doing a pretty good job of staying in his seat, noticing all the food vendors and asking me questions.
This was the first time I'd had a smartphone along. The next time I'll leave it in the car.
I did shoot a photo at the game and e-mail it. That was fun.
Nah, I'll leave the darn thing in the car.
I should have planned ahead about how I would manage the time I had with my only grandson. I'd be attentive, interactive and engaged. That all happened on the way to and from the stadium. During the light-rail trip he announced to me that he thought the alphabet needed another letter.
"Oh," I said. "Maybe so. What would that new letter sound like?"
He paused and said, "duhwag."
"Hum, that's interesting," I said. "What would your new letter look like?"
He made some motions in the air and came up with something that looked like a hybrid of L, X and a box. Not bad for spur of the moment creative enterprise.
Things changed when we sat down. The game was supposed to be the entertainment, right?
I found myself going to the "smartphone" every few minutes. I did invite him to sit on my lap for awhile, which he did. We went for food and the restrooms a couple of times. But thinking back, I was there to be with him, not with a machine.
Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, has already noticed the phenomenon and written a book, "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other," 2011, Basic Books, $16.30 at
"Technology," she writes, "has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we face a moment of temptation. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we conduct “risk free” affairs on Second Life and confuse the scattershot postings on a Facebook wall with authentic communication."
Hummm. My Facebook page IS filled with odds and ends of peoples' lives to what purpose I'm not sure. I do see young mothers asking questions about kid-raising and getting helpful responses. Others are just documenting the places they go, the food they eat and their activities that might or might not be interesting.
Having said that, some of our adult children will respond faster to e-mail to a message left on their voice mail. They never actually answer the phone. Most don't have phones as we knew them. But carry around their personal cell phones, which means the daughters in law never have to interact with the mothers or sons with step-fathers.
Why do they like e-mail rather than real verbal conversation? Can they better control the interaction. Does it make them feel safer on their time, their turf?
I can't help but believe that we have not yet fully adjusted to our Information Age deluge of e-mail, voice-mail and smartphone data that we are now asked to process. I seriously am thinking of taking days off from smartphones and computer e-mail. Just like when years ago the TV was turned off at dinner time we may now need rules around not bringing smartphones to the table.
We are all so busy, our kids deserve our undivided time when we're with them. It's got to be a walk in the woods without distractions. Nothing makes up for eye-contact or a good conversation about new letters for the alphabet. No more smartphones at a Mariners game.
Turkle says we are at the threshold of "the robotic moment,” and that "our devices prompt us to recall that we have human purposes and, perhaps, to rediscover what they are."

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