Imagine dogs in the park texting instead of barking. Imagine that instead of sniffing out each other's privates, they just tweeted one another or "liked" one another on Facebook. Imagine if they never nuzzled noses.
Of all the "screen time" horror stories I've heard, what hits me hardest about modern human communique is how wimpy it stands to make us vis-à-vis relations with other humans. We'd see it as absolutely preposterous in other animals, our silly disconnected "connections," and yet we continue. I continue, and so do my kids.
Maybe it's fine. Maybe I should encourage my two boys, 9 and 12, only to "reach out" to friends digitally. Maybe it's OK that kids don't gather together in one actual physical location but just "meet" online in virtual rooms. It is safer there, maybe, in virtual reality. Maybe they will be less hurt in life and love than we.
I say this, but then my stomach gurgles. I feel slightly sick. Connection is necessary, eye-to-eye contact, fingers upon skin. Like my dog rolls over for a rub, so, too, my kids bend toward my hand when I rub their hair.
We are meant for more than this. And, yet, I find myself checking Facebook far too often. I make a new friend and spend the day with them, then weeks might go by when the only thing that links us is the shared memory of time together, and messages back and forth from our damn devices. Yuk.
But connections have always been hard, community a challenge to come by and often maligned when it actually arrives. Relationships take focused work. Always have, always will.
In the days of Jane Austen, letters would come back and forth between people highly infrequently. Pride and Prejudice was excruciating in its tales of waiting and wondering. And that was weeks of waiting. Now, we worry if we wait mere moments. Part of it is that now, we can see if someone's there, if they're "online." We know they have read our missive and yet, they might not respond. Why? Paranoia sets in.
My son's phone bings with a text. "Your phone!" I say. I do not wish him to be rude, to keep people waiting. How would he feel?
I don't know how to escape the tyranny of disconnected connections, and I'm pretty sure we wouldn't want to turn back time, even if we could. Travel to foreign places without Google maps? No way to find old boyfriends and razz them about how they dumped you? Remember 411? How disappointing not to find someone. Remember how long it took to find a zip code or find out who was in what movie or what they'd been in before?
Technology can't ruin our families or relationships. If it wasn't our phones it would be some other thing that distracts us from each other. Dishes and laundry suffice just fine for excuses not to engage. The real problem -- now, then, and forevermore -- is fear. Connections, nose to nose, are scary as sh*t. Responsibilities to other humans and their feelings and emotions is a burden beyond compare. It is fully understandable that machines have come along to replace man, that we hold metal in our hands so much more often than flesh. I laugh wryly sometimes when I log on to Gmail or Facebook and find a message there that says, "You are not connected."
No kidding. Screens or no screens, it is so often the case that humans can't connect. Luckily, dogs still can. They nuzzle and ask for what they need. For now.
Steph Thompson writes the Fearless Parenting column for the Brooklyn Paper.
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