Monday, January 25, 2016

Love the One You're With

     Some people fear global warming.
     Others worry about the economy.
     Me, I worry about isolationism.

     Not the kind of isolationism that my high school history teacher talked about. I worry about people living in this ever more connected world, and yet becoming more and more distant because of gadgets that isolate them.

     My grandmother grew up with in a home where the family read books like Peck's Bad Boys in the evenings together.

     In my father’s childhood, when the family wanted music, they all played band instruments together around the piano.

     In my childhood, my family took rides to the canyon or long road trips with five kids playing games together in the back of a station wagon.  For lunch, we opened the tailgate and made sandwiches and mom plugged the baby bottle warmer into the cigarette lighter.

     There was a time when family life was a communal experience.  Everyone in the family had the same memories, could laugh about the same funny experiences, and commiserate over the same misadventures. (Like buying a block of ice in St. George, wrapping it in a towel and letting kids take turns holding the ice to keep cool as we crossed the Nevada desert to get to the beach in the days before we had a car with air conditioning.)

     Not only did we share memories, we shared each other.  Families really did know each other when they had to spend time actually talking.

     Today, I see kids with their own movie screen in the back seat, each with headphones and unaware of what is going on with their sibling in the next seat. Instead of family music, everyone has his or her own play list and personal device to keep them pacified.  Families take trips, but they have become electronic voyages with games, gadgets and gizmos to make sure no one has to talk to someone else. What shared memories will they have?  When they are 80 years old, what will they talk about with their siblings?  Aren't families supposed to be more than a way to keep children fed until kids can move out and pay their own cell phone charges?

     Social development is an important part of childhood. Learning to enjoy the company of who you are with and get along with others is a big deal.  My nephew took a girl on a prom date and later complained that she was on her cell phone through half of dinner.  I guess she had better people to talk to than him.

     I went to the movies and sat behind a row of teenagers who each spent most of the time checking text messages.  Apparently being with your friends at a movie isn't entertaining enough. 
     I watched a bride-to-be at her own wedding shower feel the need to pull out her phone several times to send text messages to people other than the group who took a Saturday afternoon to bring her gifts.

      I watched teenagers at a large party.  At any given time, twenty per cent were on the phone.  They were already around lots of friends, but it looked like the grass is always greener somewhere else, and many kids passed up the chance to talk to the people they were already with, hoping to find something more interesting somewhere else.

     It is not just teenagers who can't love the one they are with.  I see parents with small children eating out, or in the park.  Whomever dad is talking to must be important, because kids don't get a word from him.

     I worry that there will be a whole generation of clueless young people who have unknowingly cut themselves off from the things that really matter.  They will miss watching the countryside flow by their window and learning that other places are different than home.  They will miss long talks with mom.  They will miss discovering the links between generations that come only from listening. They will be oblivious to what is going on in the world around them and in their families because their eyes are always down, their thumbs are in constant motion, and their ears are constantly plugged.  I suspect that whether these electronically equipped kids were in a closet or in the Grand Canyon wouldn't make any difference as long as the tunes and texts keep coming. 

     It’s a strange world. Communication opportunities have never been greater, yet people seem less equipped than ever to know how to enjoy the company of the person sitting next to them.  When you are with your kids, make sure they know that you really do love the one your with by talking to them.  All those folks on the phone can wait.  Childhood disappears in a blink and you don’t want to miss it.

© Diane L. Mangum 2008