As a child born in the mid 70’s, my generation has witnessed a pretty radical lifestyle shift due to technological advances. It is a transformation that will no doubt continue to insert itself further and further into our lives with the development of each new “must have” gadget. It begs the question – are these things really “must have” items?
I grew up with a hand-me-down Walkman, and my first one speaker boom box with a shoulder strap (which I thought was the greatest thing ever!) wasn’t bestowed upon me until the 5th grade. My parents didn’t get cable TV until we’d all moved out, so my childhood television viewing was limited to VHF/UHF, and we had a giant antenna in the attic that my father would go up and adjust while the chain of kids would yell up from our remoteless, knobbed TV in the living room to give the OK that the reception was clear. Do I feel deprived in the least? On the contrary, I think we were quite fortunate.
I do not necessarily believe that we as a society are better off with all of these techno toys. I’m sure many would disagree, but I feel like for children it can encourage the slow death of imagination, and I fear the repercussions when their only means of seeking information involves pushing a button first. Most importantly, all of these technological accessories that have infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives can dramatically take away from family time. The compulsion to equip each family member with every electronic “necessity” is contributing to a society where parents spend far more time working, and causes an increasing economic struggle as more and more “required” items enter our lifestyles.
I believe some of the driving forces behind the incessant pursuit of all the latest and greatest devices are celebrity worship, and/or the almost obligatory American desire to acquire status symbols. In the 80’s, only the wealthy could talk on seemingly unattainable car phones. With global corporate expansion and sweatshops abounding, we now have an affordable means for the middle class to connect to the upper class. The school teacher with a modest income may not have a million dollar home, but now they can have the same iPad as someone who does. It’s a morsel of luxury and status thrown out for the rest of us to enjoy. [Insert celebrity here] has XYZ smartphone, and I can have one too! But now my husband and son need one, and the kids need iPods, and no respectable member of the middle class could be caught with an old tube television, and of course little Janie is on the computer all the time, so I guess we need a second computer, maybe even an iPad, and let’s not forget cell phone plans for all of those smartphones, and the multi-room DVR cable package for all of our TV sets. When will it be enough? What cost are parents and children really paying for all of this “connectivity” and convenience? Who are we really connecting to?
My husband and I have no desire to own smartphones, and at least once a month I question whether the two of us even need cell phones. I realize there are probably quite a few professions out there where there is an expectation that you must stay connected by all means possible, and in that instance, I’m sure a smartphone could almost be deemed a necessity. But does the 20 something barista at my local coffee shop or a 10 year old child need to maintain that sort of connectivity?
It pains me to see people dining out with friends, and everyone at the table has a cell phone in their hands, rather than engaging in conversation. I wince even more when I see parents do it around their children. When my Facebook feed is flooded with individually posted photos of family time, I always feel compelled to say that I don’t need to see your day of apple picking unfold in real time. Chances are, I’m looking at it hours later anyway. I acknowledge the desire to take photos and document your day – I love photography and enjoy capturing moments. However, taking it a step further with this perpetual instantaneous updating of life events just makes me want to scream, “Put the phone down and enjoy the time with your children!”
My intent is not to shame parents using smartphones, iPads or anything else. I believe every parent makes the choices they think are best for their children, and everyone has different things that are important to them. As long as parents love their children, I respect those decisions, and I certainly don’t think uploading photos all day long at the zoo makes them a terrible parent – I understand that these are the times that we live in. I’m also not trying to say that all technology is evil, or computers and smartphones are bad.
As a blogger, I am obviously reliant on my computer. I realize that many of the things I’ve spoken of have their merits, especially when it comes to accessing and sharing information. I don’t think that all kids should be limited to the 1963 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia (as I was!) when in the confines of their home to do school reports. Information is fantastic! But learning in the process — having to read through pages to find what you’re looking for, and having the ability to access that information beyond pressing a few keys is extremely critical. Beyond that, imagination is even more valuable, as is human interaction — especially in families. It is the excess with which our society has begun to cling to all things technological that concerns me. The implications of it all for our children … for ourselves… How many people are struggling that much more to maintain a lifestyle of data plans, service contracts and continual upgrades on their futile quest of keeping their devices from becoming obsolete? Is the economy the only thing to blame for the diminishing middle class? Or is it the inevitable result of a society perpetually striving for just too many material objects — objects that didn’t exist 5, 10 and 20 years ago?
Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home. She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family’s ecological imprint.
Her website, www.themindfulhome.blogspot.com, shares with consumers the information she’s found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure. She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.