Connecting More by Connecting Less
This is the first installment of our “Human Experience” series. Stay tuned for more articles about the importance of focusing on each other in a world where we look more often into screens than into other people’s eyes.
By Wud Pocinwong
Over dinner a few weeks ago, I told my family about the intimate discussion I’d just had with a husband and wife team, two of the country’s thought leaders on parenting, about raising responsible children and avoiding the so-called “entitlement trap.” This led to a remarkable family discussion, during which I posed the following question to my kids:
From this list, what are kids’ biggest problems?
- Peer pressure
- Substance abuse
- Entitlement attitudes
- Sibling rivalry
- Pornography and sexual experimentation
- Excessive technology
Without missing a beat, my daughter responded: “Dad, it’s obvious that excessive technology and entitlement attitudes are the top two problems.” Huh? I’ve been concerned about peer pressure, drugs, and sex, because that was what my parents talked to me about when I was a teenager. Those risks are still out there. So why was my daughter so adamant about entitlement and tech being the main issues? And how in the heck do my kids really understand the meaning of entitlement?
I probed. She explained, “Well, even though you and Mom have a constant discussion with us about how to responsibly use our iPhones, we still do whatever we want with them because we think we are entitled to use them.”
I have significant anxiety regarding our society’s addiction—particularly our kids’ addiction—to technology. The idea that we are entitled to spend our time attached to various devices, and paying a great deal of money to do so, explains many modern frustrations. We feel personally betrayed when we don’t get 4G internet while traveling internationally, if a video’s ads take too long to let us get to endless free content, if our texts bounce, or if the internet just, inexplicably, won’t connect. Being without a phone or computer was a part of life for most of human history. Now, it’s a severe inconvenience—or, for our kids, punishment! It's a burden to interact with people, instead of technology, to be entertained, answer questions or find our way somewhere. Are we in danger rewiring ourselves so that human interactions start to feel unnatural?
Being immersed in an IT career, this family talk forced me to reflect hard on the human experience that I’ve always believed in. How will that human experience continue to be included as part of the transition to AI and machine learning? How will we dissipate the anxiety that people feel as machines take over more and more of daily life?
Already, algorithms choose which news feeds we see and which friends we interact with on social media. Narrowing the narratives we hear runs counter to the growth mindset that I feel is critical for success in the world today. And relentless absorption in devices has been proven to isolate teenagers, disrupt relationships, and diminish productivity.* Being constantly connected, it seems, leads to greater disconnect than ever.
Physical vs. Virtual
It seems that to get along with the machines, rather than feeling either entitled to them or, consequently, controlled by them, we’ll have to get back to basics. People have to create community, which is only done by true human interaction—not in RSS feeds or YouTube channels. Talking, sharing, and living through physical experiences that are truly human in nature, and not curated by bots, are what keep us going forward.
I accept and am comfortable with the fact that ‘the machines’ are here to stay. Many,of our kids are going to wind up working in tech-related fields by necessity. I’m not kidding myself—I know that my kids are as aware and in tune with where the world is going as I am. So I’m choosing to work in concert with this connected life, not against it (or inside it). I’m putting my focus on how to help my kids (and myself) nurture deep human connection, not just deep learning. Hopefully you'll see our family out doing more physical experiences and community activities to relieve our dependence on technology, and reduce tech entitlement.
Meanwhile at our dinner tables, let’s discuss this: How can we use technology to augment relationships, rather than diminish them? How can we build empathy versus entitlement?
What are your ideas? Join the conversation with Wud at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wud Pocinwong is CEO of Launch Consulting. His offline passion is creating human experiences with his family through kiteboarding. In fact, he named Launch for a kiting trick!
- Social isolation: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/fashion/02BEST.html;
- Relationships: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/3-ways-technology-can-negatively-impact-your-relationships-0919167;
- Productivity: https://www.npr.org/sections/a...