The Boston Globe reported on a 2010 study by the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future, that revealed: “Over the last decade the amount of time family members in Internet-connected households spend in shared interaction dropped from an average of 26 hours a week to less than 18 hours. Meanwhile, complaints of being ignored at times by family members using the Internet soared.”
A while ago, I came across this piece by Jonathan Fields > Parallel Screen Play : Are You Cheating In Plain View. In the piece, Jonathan talks about how toddlers ‘parallel play’ (They DO! Don’t they? Yep!) and how this natural phase of babyhood leads to playing together and all the goodness THAT has to offer. Nice.
But THEN… he goes on to say that teenagers are also parallel playing now, sitting side by side with their screens out, playing whichever scary-blippy-deathy game they are into this week. Even adults are connecting in this slightly (or very) arms length way, sometimes foregoing real contact and shared experiences for SHARE THIS or TWEET THAT or headphones-in interactions.
Are we regressing?
Jonathan quotes The Boston Globe :
Let’s talk about this in local terms. The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells me that there were an estimated 6.2 million households with a broadband internet connection in 2010-11. Broadband is accessed by nearly three-quarters (73%) of all households in Australia, and 92% of all households with internet access. So MOST of us are on the internet, with fairly decent connections.
We’re connecting wirelessly more and more too, using our phones, tablets, gaming consoles and TVs to make sure that our screens are always feeding us tasty morsels of digital delight. Our kids have grown up this way, and although we’ve rolled up a bit late to Club Net (possibly wearing an adventurous grin and a Hawaiian shirt?) we are ALL in, or so the stats tell us.
Club Net has a whole TON of great stuff awaiting us, with the click of mouse or the tap of a screen. You don’t even need to wear a lei. We can pat a virtual kitten, walk the streets of Calcutta, help with music therapy for the ill and elderly, experience the food crisis in Niger, braid our hair, learn a language, breakdance… it’s all there. Whatever we want. Click.
Now let’s click back to us for a minute. Here we are, our little families totally fluent in accessing the things which entertain us. Or maybe it’s our friendship group who are styling with the stylus, tapping on the tablet, pinching screens or shaking to undo? Whichever is true for you, the point is that we’re busying our brains and fingers with custom content. We’re excitedly finding the things that WE like the most. We’re making sure we’re consuming things that are just perfect for us. And it’s probably the case that we wouldn’t even THINK about choosing something that the person sitting next to us might want to consume, too. That’s not what this user-chooses, customised digital experience is all about. This is all about the individual.
We’re so quick to consume digital media and know it all that ‘Yes. I’ve already seen that!’ is often the retort when someone wants to share with us. Not satisfied with hanging out on our own with our friends online, we bypass their good intention (to show us something interesting) with our own breezy been-there attitude.
Hm. So this makes me wonder about a few things. Let me ask you this…
How do we find ways to connect that are actually sincere, meaningful, squeeze-the-other-person rewarding if we are constantly gearing our digital experience to suit ourselves? How do we avoid parallel play?
I have some ideas about this. Maybe we need to make the time to actively choose content we can share with our family or friends. Sometimes the slacktivist reflex of hitting the SHARE button makes us feel like we’re being good sharers, but nothing beats sitting down next to someone you really like or love, bumping shoulders and giggling or gasping at something really great as you pick Cheezel crumbs off your bosom.
Also : We need to keep using the internet to foster real-life connections, rather than relying on the tippity-tap of the keyboard to express our friendships for us. We need to get out in the world and lay our hands (in a non-creepy/non-NCIS way) on our favourite people.
Plus : We have to remember that the internet is a great way to ENHANCE our lives, but it shouldn’t BE our lives. It’s kinda like if you’ve got a really rad car. It’s shiny and polished and useful and comfy and awesome. And then you turbo charge it. And it’s suddenly EVEN RADDER. Well. You are the car. Already rad, useful, awesome, ready to fill with people you love. AND the turbo is like the internet, see? It’s there to make something that’s already rad even RADDER. A turbo system is no use without a good vehicle, see? It’s the same with The Internet/You.
We also need to be sure that we’re not just zipping around in parallel lanes, in our turbo charged cars, passing each other wittily or cleverly or LOL-y. We need to pull over, roll down the window, get outta the car, look under the hood. Better still, we could take the trip with our favourite people, side by side, lambswool seat-cover cosy, fluffy dice swinging, radio blaring, windows down.