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My Love/Hate Relationship with Technology and Social Media

I try to keep the hammer tucked away in a lovely green tool chest in the garage. I do this because there are times when, if it were a bit handier…say hanging off my hip on a tool belt, I would use it to smash various electronic devices in my home and would then have to deal with the resulting regret and expenses.

I really am not anti-technology. If anything, technology is anti-me. I am the person at the grocery store holding up the line because the touch screen has decided that I just don’t have the touch. When I am at the bank, the airport, or any other place where a computer is a part of the equation, said technology often goes on the fritz. It’s as if technology senses my presence…and is annoyed by it. For example, as I have been typing this very blog entry on my very favorite laptop, I am once again reminded of the fact that the feeling is not at all mutual. If I were it’s favorite human, after all, would it be CONTINUOUSLY SHUTTING DOWN AS I TYPE? No, I tend to think not. But, since the hammer is not readily available, I simply close and open the screen and start over…and over…and over…you get the idea, and hope that the computer will eventually understand that I am not going to give up, at least for now, and just put up with me until I finish.

I am also not against letting my children learn to navigate the world of technology…and by extension, the internet. This is the world in which they are growing up, after all, and they are going to need to learn to get by. However, I do believe in limits and many times the extent to which they are expected to be tied to technology both by their peers and sometimes even the schools, frustrates me, and I do not mind playing the part of the mean mom in cases of excess. Everybody else in the entire world your age has a smartphone? You need a smartphone so this or that group can contact you for homework? Too bad so sad…if they truly need or wish to contact you, they can call you, send you a text on your slide-phone, or contact you through your school computer or through me. All your friends have Snapchat and you need  it to be a part of the group? My parents used to say, “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you follow?” Well, guess what! They did…and I was about to follow…until the officer broke up the crowd. Yes,it was a fairly low bridge, but you can bet that if I had been out for a stroll across the same bridge on my own that day, it never would have even entered my mind to make the leap. That is because the average kid/teen has a brain wired very much like that of a lemming. This leads me to two conclusions: 1. It is my job as a parent to set the limits until their brains have a chance to further develop, and 2. social media would be a very bad idea for lemmings. So, I apologize to my kids if I am absolutely the least cool mom on the planet (in that same sarcastic way they often apologize to me…hey! I’ll even throw in an eye roll), but I just don’t feel that one should need social media to be social! It is an extra…perhaps a tool…not a crutch!

My latest bout with the hate side of this tumultuous relationship involved not only my laptop (though it was really more of a word processing issue) but also my daughter’s cellphone, which was in much more imminent danger because of its small, hand-sized, potentially aerodynamic design (no hammer necessary). In my daughter’s defense, she was not the only one so totally absorbed into the use of an electronic device that my voice was unable to penetrate through the numbness in order to reach her eardrums. She was simply the last drop in a bucket that had been filled to the brim by a million unanswered, unacknowledged requests. She was the straw that broke the camel’s back…and the camel had a bit of a freak out.

After I declared a moratorium on electronics, as far as anyone under the age of 18 was concerned, and swooped through the room gathering up phones, iPads, and such, to dump into a hidden location (one that, based on past experience, I may or may not have remembered in some future moment of calm and clarity), I sent them all off to read books, draw, or play outside, and sat down to work on some writing.

Writing is my comfort place; it is food for my soul. And so it was…right up until I decided to try to add page numbers to a story I was writing for my son. Page numbers…on a word processor called Pages. Easy peasy, right?  Almost three hours later…no page numbers, no finger nails, no self-respect, and limited fragile sanity. Nothing a few searches on Google couldn’t fix…right? Right? RIGHT? Just click “insert” …then “auto page numbers…”. Sounds easy, I know. And I would have absolutely LOVED to click on them but they were GREY. I could see them. I could even float that adorable little arrow over them. I just couldn’t CLICK on them because they were GREY! Yes, I tried enabling “headers” and “footers” but no matter how much I cursed at them, they too remained grey. Cold, pale, unsympathetic, grey…the color that was now seeping into my soul as I clicked and clicked and begged the Google gods to lead me to the answer. Then after THREE HOURS I inadvertently clicked on a little square seated unassumingly up near the left hand corner…one I swear I have never even SEEN before, never mind ever clicked and VOILÀ: all the grey went away and I could add pages and manipulate the text to my heart’s content. Apparently, I had somehow slipped into “outline” mode and now I was free. Fantastic! I had managed to escape outline mode! But I could not escape the fact that I had just wasted THREE HOURS of my life trying to do something that should have taken about two seconds. AAARRRRGH. I could have watched an entire “Lord of the Rings” movie in that time.

That is when the technology that often torments me through computer crashes, barriers I feel it creating between my children and myself, those annoying quotes that exit the YouTube directly through my children’s mouths, and the little squares on my Moon’s school laptop that I KNOW are not homework which magically disappear as I approach (and the kid thinks she’s getting a smartphone anytime soon? I beg to differ.), suddenly transformed into my salvation. I reached out, strategically positioned my hands on the keyboard in front of me, slipped into the world of social media and was magically transported across land and sea to a place where I virtually sipped some wine, and laughed my stress away with a kindred soul. I was in Australia sharing a moment with someone from my past, present, and future…or perhaps we were somewhere in between, maybe a clam shack from our childhood, virtually clinking bottles of beer as we laughed over our latest frustrations… I humbly recognize that without technology moments like this simply could not be. Of course, if distance had allowed, the wine would have been sweeter in person and the laughter deeper if accompanied by back pats and the inevitable facial expressions, but my soul was still refreshed and a part of it had been reignited.

I love that technology allows me to pop in across states and overseas to participate in the births of babies, the first steps of toddlers, graduations, other important moments of relatives and friends that live so far away. I can also virtually hug them in moments of grief or confusion and reach out when I need the same.

There are even times that I may use this magical power of virtual travel allowed by my laptop or smartphone and the internet to voyage shorter distances, as well: perhaps down the street to share stories and tactics with another mother at a time of day when actually getting together would be impossible, but when moral support is needed. The trick, I find (the line I have tried to draw for myself) is to try to opt for actual human contact when possible.

For me, the key to my love/hate relationship with technology and social media comes down to a healthy dose of discretion.  I know that I can sometimes be a bit of a hermit if left to my own devices and I often find it much easier to communicate solely by text or social media, but I try to make a conscious effort not to do this. It is so easy to get sucked into the internet and/or social media, and for hours to fly by unnoticed…time that could have been spent actually having a coffee with that friend whose picture you just “liked”.

Discretion is something we build up and master over time, as are true and healthy relationships. They are earned and perfected; often born from past failures and outright bad decisions. As I watch each child stumble through their own set of life lessons, which are just as distinct and unique as the three are from one another…I am hopeful that their individual set of accumulated experiences (both good and bad) will ultimately result in them possessing their own senses of discretion.

But they need time and opportunities. I have had time, so why would I deny them the same? I am still learning…and they are just starting. Throwing them right into the world of non-stop virtual social interaction just seems…to the very core of my gut…to be a bad decision. They need downtime: real downtime…when they are stuck in the company of their own thoughts…forced to sift through them without the filter of someone else’s point of view (whether it be a texting friend or a complete YouTube stranger). They need to hold paper books that offer no links on which to click for other people’s opinions. They need to read them through, from cover to cover, searching their own brains for meaning. And they absolutely need to build up real person to person, face to face relationships, before learning to lean on them virtually.

I am happy to let them spend some time (remotely or directly monitored, according to age) drifting a bit and learning the art of virtual travel. I learn some (ok, all) of my most interesting nature facts from Little Man this way. But…I reserve my right to go out to the garage for that hammer if I see their ability to form relationships and opinions in a healthy organic way threatened…

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