Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Barmecide Banquet?

I read an article in The Atlantic that suggests that smart phones have ruined a generation--specifically, my son's.

If you google the article, this pops up:

No, smartphones are not destroying a generation

Yes, smartphones are destroying a generation, but not of kids

Smartphones haven't "destroyed a generation"

Teen smartphone use linked to depression, suicide

Are smartphones making a generation unhappy?

Clearly, the idea that smartphones have destroyed our children or undermined their happiness (and quite likely our own) has struck a nerve. Personally, I think there's something to it. 

However, the author doesn't paint a complete picture of contemporary youth. It doesn't take into account, for example, the prevalence of over-scheduled kids, especially with regard to sports. 

When our exchange students joined the swim club at our local high school, practice was three hours  after school every day, in addition to regular swim meets in the evenings or on weekends.  Our first exchange student also participated in pre-dawn resistance training as part of swim club.

Whatever the sport, daily practice seems to be standard in high school. Kids return home tired and hungry, with homework to be done. 

Our exchange students did not receive academic credit for their year abroad, so their grades were not of much concern, but I often wondered about the other kids. How could they balance their athletic schedules with their academic performance?  

I know that more oxygen to the brain is good for thinking, but when did they find the time to think? Or sleep?   

And how were they supposed to come to ruin if they couldn't put the time in on their smartphones? 

My son is still in middle school. He's not enthusiastic about sports. He may well come to ruin. 

I would take away his phone, but he doesn't use one. He prefers his iPod. (I mean, who talks anymore, right?)

It's gaming that motivates my son to hole up in his room--gaming, and being 13. 

He does use Snapchat and Instagram, but mostly he talks to his friends over headphones and plays games with them on X-box.    

The concerns of the article about smartphones apply to my son's social life equally: He relates to his friends primarily over wifi, from his room, and rarely sees them elsewhere or otherwise, except at school.  

I have to wonder if the camaraderie Josh experiences with his friends remotely at home translates to their relationship in proximity at school.  

I doubt it is quite the same. I suspect that the social hierarchy of eighth grade dictates who is friendly with whom.  

I am pretty sure that Josh hangs out in his room with kids remotely who would not remotely hang out with him at school.  

I'm not saying my son is untouchable or anything. He places himself in the middle of the social hierarchy. He has adopted a strategy for surviving the petty wars and bullying of adolescence that involves low-affect and camouflage, which he hopes will get him through middle school  largely unmolested. 

I have not relieved Josh of his iPod.  The article makes clear that without it, he would be cut off from his peers and floating in the cold dark void of space just like an astronaut whose tether to the mothership has been tragically severed. 

Still, he is in his room too much, like the rest of his generation, and the foundations of his friendships are not as concrete as I would like them to be.  

By the same token, I have to admit that I have also grown extremely lackadaisical about my social life. 

My social circles on Facebook and Instagram appear deep and wide, yet they are no less virtual for all of that.

I am reminded of a tale from the Arabian Nights:

A hungry man, his mouth watering, receives what appears to be a banquet; but when he uncovers his platter, he finds nothing but an empty plate.  Of course, he is disappointed, but he pretends to love what he sees.  He tuck into this great invisible meal, which good humor pleases his host so much that his empty plate is replaced with a full one.

Social media holds out the promise of such a banquet. But is it food?  Is it...enough?  Could we somehow leverage it for something more solid and filling?

So!, three days ago I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my iPhone. I haven't unsubscribed to them, I can still find them on my tablet or computer. I just can't use my phone to constantly scratch that itch.  

For the first day or two, I suffered the mental  equivalent of restless leg syndrome.  In the habit of checking my phone, I found myself checking the headlines of the New York Times much more often than I normally would.  

For a crutch, when feeling desperate for approval and at the risk of disappointment, I could check my blog stats, but I tried not to.

There was something so tempting and easy about having social media on my phone, like pulling a lever on a slot machine.  One or two hoops to jump through is one or two hoops too many.  

I am grateful for the friends I've found and made on FB.  I hope to pursue some of them in the real world. I'd like to see my childhood friends again. I'd like to sit across a table from Mary Beth and look into her big brown eyes. No doubt, that would feed my soul.

It's too soon to know whether I'll be happier or more satisfied without being able to use social media on my smartphone, but I certainly don't miss the itch.