If you read articles or books about brain activity, human development, and about human connection, you’ve seen references to Harlow’s Monkeys, a study done on infant monkeys and the strong need they demonstrated for life-like touch as nourishment. It was a horrible experiment, devastating to anyone who has a heart that beats for love of other beings. It was also an important study that acknowledged the need for warm, physical contact among living creatures, particularly infants.
As a person who grew up without all the technological interfacing it seemed hard to understand and appreciate how ‘young people’ socialize. I decided to change the view from the outside looking in and step into their ‘imaginary world’ as I called it then. From the inside looking out I saw the changing times and understood my parenting perspective needed to change.
She’s right, communication has changed. I get frustrated when hear generalizations about generations, but there are some stark differences between the digital native generations and those that came before. My son eloquently argued his case that gaming designers are artists. He reminded me that at one time, digital art and digital design weren’t considered art, and that even film making was, at one time, dismissed as an art form.
Digital natives communicate differently, and we must respect those differences. Just like every generation before us, each thinks they’re unique, and each older generation makes judgments about the younger ones.
As parents, educators, and humans, tolerate the chipping away at availability of human contact and experiences in the natural world, we risk more than losing people to loneliness, depression and suicide, we risk losing our humanity.
I live in Montana, which is probably one of the best places to live in terms of access to nature. That’s why I’m often surprised to hear about people, particularly children and teens, who don’t walk on the mountain trails so accessible in our town. We have more open space and parks in our little town than we do buildings, and yet, when I asked our teenagers if they think their friends and peers spend enough time outside, they describe many of their friends as “gamers who don’t see sunlight for days at a time.”
Introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, our humanity depends on our relationships with others.
That includes physical proximity and interaction. If we don’t prioritize our relationships through listening, sharing our vulnerability, and yes, hugging, we will find our isolation and loneliness increasing. If you’re wondering about the impact of artificial intelligence on our humanity, that’s where you’ll see it, in increasing loneliness because of our reliance on technology for our human relationships.
Not only is it dangerous to walk your dog along a waterway while staring deeply into your phone, your relationship with your dog is pathetic.
If you think I’m over-reacting, watch people walking around town. Go to a playground, the local library, the airport, restaurants, and watch people with their families, children, and colleagues. This is really scary, if you’re paying attention. I once had to yell at a father with his toddler, because he was watching his phone as his toddler nearly walked into a busy street.
Being online all the time poses real, physical risk; it also poses real risk in our relationships with each other. When parents and other adults are deeply engrossed in their digital lives, they are not modeling conversation and face-to-face interaction for children and other people around them.
My challenge to our digital native generations: Develop tools to leverage technology to improve our face-to-face, in-person interactions. I’ll bet we can find ways to gamify this. Like Pokemon Go, but with encouragement to actually talk to people and to “look up”.
If you write on topics related to suicide, there are great resources available to make sure you are doing more good than harm. As a relatively uninformed professional on this topic, I use this website, ReportingSuicide.Org as a resource.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 1–800–273–8255
Available 24 hours everyday
Speaking of meeting face-to-face; there are still spots available at the inaugural No Longer Virtual Conference February 23 & 24, 2017 in Atlanta. Here’s Cheryl Snapp Conner’s article in Forbes mentioning NLV as an event not to miss in 2017.
Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.
Originally published at medium.com