Around the Campfire with Laurie: Technology is Not a Safety Net or Lesson in Connection, Being Human Is
We live in a world where the perception is that technology keeps us connected, safe, and happy when the truth is that technology today has presented the biggest road block for successful connection, a false sense of safety, and has lied to us about what happiness really is.
Try to have a real conversation with someone today. Really. If you ask someone how they are and the response you get is “good.” That ends the conversation. When did people stop learning that conversation is about back and forth exchange, not one sided interviewing or expression. I would tend to think it was around the time when people started opting for the quick and easy text message (sending an email is even passé now for most folks under 25 because it “takes too long.”) as opposed to picking up the phone for a chat or talking to someone face to face. Do you remember spending hours on the phone and learning that if you didn’t create and maintain reciprocal conversation, there was silence and the conversation stopped? That’s how we learned back and forth exchange. Now with text and 140 character tweets and the ability to send a message and walk away from your device without waiting for a response, conversation is becoming a lost art. And please don’t think it’s just the “kids today” because, as adults, we are falling into these same bad habits. We are reaching for quick and easy over connected and meaningful. Our communication skills and relationships are suffering because of that.
Conversations over technology are a bit like throwing a punch at a heavy bag. There is no visible reaction, no auditory feedback, you just throw your punch, it lands, and it’s over. If we don’t teach our children and young adults the art, no the life skill, of talking on the phone and, even more importantly actual face to face conversation, human connection is going to suffer. In face to face conversation, empathy is born, intimacy is born, and deep connection is created. This is what teaches social skills and allows us to be a more well rounded person in our interactions with others. When we turn to our phones and computers and iPads in down time, boredom, or to prevent you from being in your thoughts or in the moment, this causes us to miss out on opportunities to be creative, to use our imagination, and interact in real time in the world.
In a world where, when surveyed, college aged students would rather lose their pinky then give up their smart phone, and when parents believe they must “arm” their younger and younger child with a smart phone in order for them to be safe and have constant connection to each other, we are falsely turning to technology instead of life skills to keep us safe. The truth is, smart phones are not safety nets, people are. Knowing how to be aware of your environment, interact with the people around you, and get help when needed, is not only a life skill needed for relationship building but a life skill needed for survival in the world. If we walk down the street with ear buds in or looking down at a screen, what do we miss in the world around us? If we forgo playdates and meals and get togethers in person for screen time, what skills are we losing? A smart phone can not help you recognize danger, learn how to trust your gut when you see something, practice how to speak to another person with feelings and emotions, or become a self sufficient, independent adult. Using a smart phone as a safety net or a way to hide from real time interactions will not keep you safe or help you grow. In fact, it will only hold you back from interacting with the world as a healthy human being.
So why do we cling to technology like a warm blanket? Well, partially because it is quick and easy and allows us to detach from physical, social, and emotional responsibility for our actions and interactions. It keeps us in a bubble, negates accepting responsibility, shows us a shinier, happier world that just doesn’t exist, and stunts our social skills. What it really does is prevent us from having to be human, from fumbling and failing, from embracing the world and people around us. The problem with that is that, fumbling and failing are life’s lessons for growth. If you don’t learn life’s lessons for growth, the skills to communicate with another person, to tolerate your own feelings of happiness and sadness, to negotiate yourself in the world, how can you possibly thrive in the world?
Technology is not a safety net, people are, and if we don’t learn how to interact in the world and connect with people, no smart phone or helicopter parent or MBA from Harvard is going to help you be successful in life. And that’s where camp comes in…NO technology for seven weeks. Camp is about being a human being. Camp teaches us to be both interdependent and independent. Children and staff learn how to rely on others and rely on themselves and not just turn to their parents or their smart phones for a quick fix when they need something or need soothing. At Echo Lake we say that we are “Dedicated to Human Development.” What we mean by that, among many things, is that we are going to help our campers and staff come out from behind their screens, turn away from the allure of a quick text, and even spend seven weeks without their parents managing many details. Living in a community like this for seven weeks will help them to practice real conversation, create deep connection with others, learn resilience and self confidence when you fumble and fail, and generally practice being human in a world with other humans. That is human development and boy are we dedicated to it.