Am I Using Technology Too Much?
Yes, I use plenty of technology every day, and chances are, so do you. Whether or not we want to admit it, technology is embedded in our lives in every way. We use it to communicate, drive, shop, educate, and, most importantly, to connect with each other. And those of us of a certain age probably use technology way more than we ever expected we would. For me, the focus isn’t on if I use it too much, but how I use it.
Many years ago while having dinner with my wife, she observed another couple at the restaurant not talking with one another. “Please let that not be us in the future,” she said.
Here we are in the future, and recently at dinner she observed a couple not speaking with each other and both looking at their smartphones. I said, “Remember that couple a few years ago who didn’t speak with one another? Well that’s them now.” It is true that it’s easier to be distracted or to check on something quickly, but the fundamentals of relationships are the same. I would rather talk and laugh with my wife than look at my phone.
Does this dynamic change with children? It shouldn’t. I have two daughters. Raising children in this fast-moving technology era is a challenge for many of us. Often our children know more about technology than we do. I consider myself very tech savvy, but I am surprised by how much more my 10-year-old daughter knows than me. When I talk with my kids about technology, I say that the user’s manual tells us how to operate the device, but what it should do is show us how to use it.
Personally, I try to use technology in ways that connect and bring us together. How do I model this behavior? Here are a few recent examples of how I used technology to have a deeper connection with my kids.
Music: In my home we have speaker system that is attached to a music subscription service. These two systems operate on an app that basically gives me access to every piece of music ever composed. That is amazing. I could never afford to buy all those CDs. Even just a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to listen to different genres of music at the simple push of a button.
So how do I use this to connect to my kids? I ask them what their current favorite song is and play it. They tell me why they like it. Then I play my favorite song from when I was their age and share why I liked it. Over the past several months I have learned more about them through their musical taste, and they have learned more about me and my life—all through music.
One time they asked me to play an artist that I thought they’d like. We sat down on the couch, I pulled out the app, searched for the song and hit play. My daughters looked up at the speakers and their mouths fell open as Etta James belted out “At Last.” They agreed she had an amazing voice and asked when I first heard her sing.
(Of course, all of this music eventually leads to some form of a dance party, but I will keep the details of my dancing skills for my family and spare you the laughter.)
Video: Speaking of dancing, my daughter once stated that she hardly ever sees boys dance, and if she had seen them, they didn’t dance very well. I grabbed my tablet and searched for a clip from my youth. We sat down and I played the opening to the musical film “West Side Story.” Her first comment was, “Wow, these boys can dance and they are doing it in tight pants!” Then she asked, “Is this New York City? What year? This is what it looked like when you were a kid?”
This led to a conversation about growing up in NYC in that era. Then I started asking her questions about what she noticed visually from the directing. She mentioned framing of shots and the colors that were used. The clip only lasted a few minutes, but our conversation lasted way past its conclusion.
Photos: We now live in the age of unlimited and instant photos. We can have every photo we have ever taken in our pocket. I believe I have over 70,000 photos on my phone (thanks to the cloud). People wonder when I ever look at all of them.
Here is my ritual to see them in a meaningful and fun way. Once a week, I try my best to do a date search of that month and day in my photo library. Next, I will ask my family, “What have we done on this date in the past?” The usual response is, “I don’t remember.” Then I show all the photos from various years that were taken on that date. It’s a time capsule of my family for that specific date, and it brings back memories of where we were, why we were there and what was going on in our lives. My children love this because they see pictures of themselves when they were very young and in places they sometimes don’t remember. They enjoy the stories behind the pictures.
I could go on and on about how I use technology to build deeper connections with my family. I try to instill in my kids the idea that technology will always be changing, that it is a part of our lives and that it will be even bigger in the future—and also that we must always find ways to use it to connect with each other.
I wish all technology came with a “real” user’s manual that focused on human connections to help adults see the best use of the device with children (and other adults). And yes, I do have some no tech rules in my home; there are times when there should be no technology around, such as when we are eating or at bedtime. But let’s not focus on technology as the source of bad relationships. Instead, let’s focus on using technology to create and engage in stronger relationships.