Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Over the weekend, I caught an interesting episode of "On Being," with public radio host Krista Tippett. While the nominal topic was "the good, bad and the ugly" of the internet, and especially of internet-based social media sites, I found the conversation with her guest relevant on a number of levels, including questions about the importance of healthy relationships and intellectual stimulation for individuals as they age.
The guest speaker, Danah Boyd, a researcher, book author and pro-technology blogger, especially internet technology, talked about concerns that many parents may have, that their children are negatively affected by the amount of time they spend on the internet, whether in the form of Facebook, emails, chatrooms or simply surfing. "Why don't they just go outside and play together like we did as children, especially in the summer?"
In response, Boyd pointed out that there is a "tremendous amount of fearmongering that emerged in light of 24/7 news...." She continued:
We created this concern that public spaces like the park were a terrible, terrible place. We were worried about latchkey children. We were worried about school buses. We clamped down on young people, and we started, especially in middle to upper class environments, structuring every day of their lives.
She drew upon examples, including some from Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist who wrote Going Solo to examine the implications of living a "single life," to suggest a possible explanation for young people retreating into the internet is the need to escape the pressures of overly structured daily lives.
If true, wouldn't the need to escape increase as you get older and encounter more pressure to work, be on time, succeed, and to multi-task? The need to detach from one-on-one relationships might be greater.
While the program did not talk directly about the upper ages of such a trajectory, as I listened to the program I couldn't help but think there is some greater truth here. I see some people continue to want to stay engaged in one-on-one social relationships as they move into the "older" of older ages, but I also see many, including some of my own family members, do the exact opposite. No, they aren't retreating into the internet, but they are retreating from what they might see as pressures to communicate, to be articulate, to "chat" with long time friends or family members. Perhaps for some it is the television, rather than a cell phone or iPad that serves as the protective shield.
But, for future generations of elders will the internet still be intriguing and continue to offer escape routes?
One of the things that I liked about the "On Being" discussion was the discussion of the importance of striving for balance in the midst of technological changes. Boyd said:
From my perspective, it’s about stepping back and not assuming that just the technology is transformative, and saying, okay, what are we trying to achieve here? What does balance look like? What does happiness look like? What does success look like? What are these core tenets or values that we’re aiming for, and how do we achieve them holistically across our lives? And certainly, when parents are navigating this, I think one of the difficulties is to recognize that this is what your values are, and they may be different from your child’s values. And so how do you learn to sit and have a conversation of “Here’s what I want for you. What do you want? And how do we balance that?” And that’s that negotiation that’s really hard. And so I think about it in terms of all of us — how do you find your own sense of grounding?
She concludes, suggesting internet technology is an important tool for making connections and having relationships, but "reflection" about life goals is also important. Or as Boyd says, "There are so many opportunities out there to connect, to communicate, to get information. We need to be more thoughtful about what we want to achieve and how to articulate that in our lives and how to achieve it collectively, individually, and as a community."