Last weekend, a perfect storm converged in my life that was quite telling. It all began with an ending. . . . the ending of my slow and deliberate journey through Sherry Turkle’s fascinating, timely, and thought-provoking book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. Turkle, a professor at MIT, teaches in a discipline that merges together the social sciences and technology. For years she’s been studying the social fallout of robotics. I know. . . not something most of us ever dare ponder. For me, I’m just not that smart. What I love about Turkle is that she isn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions about the “advances” that we so readily accept without thought or critique. Think of her as a person that observes, translates, and isn’t afraid to shout out a much-needed, “Whoa!!! Wait a minute!” That’s what Alone Together really is.
I pondered rattling off a series of helpful quotes from Turkle’s book, but there are just too many to list here. I’ll leave that until another time. This one will suffice for now: “We enjoy continual connection but rarely have each other’s full attention.” There you have it folks. A clear and concise statement about our hyper-connected world and how we are really living in it. It’s a statement about what we’ve chosen to let it all do to us. . . and we don’t even know that we’ve made the choice. . . or what it’s doing to us, for that matter.
That perfect storm continued as I landed in San Diego for the first of the fall’s two Youth Specialties National Youthworkers Conventions. Always fun. My two seminars happened to be birthed out of our Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU. One was titled “Hyper-Connected 24/7: Kids and Social Media.” Afterwards, someone made the correct observation that the seminar wasn’t only about what this stuff is doing to kids. It was about all of us. The second seminar was a bit more specific in nature: “Growing Up in A Porn is the Norm World.”
The questions and discussion during and after the former offering were very interesting. I wasn’t at all surprised that youth workers are lamenting the fact that their students can’t put down their cell phones. . . for anywhere from 5 minutes to a weekend. They (the kids) moan, scream, cry, and lament in a display of separation anxiety that is really about separating human and machine. Sure, we are led to believe that the anxiety is rooted in the cut-off from other human beings. But when the request to power-down is made in an effort to ramp-up real-time real-life face-to-face flesh-and-blood connections. . . well, we have to wonder if we haven’t socialized ourselves away from the ability to really relate to real people. Turkle calls this “the new state of self: tethered and marked absent.” She writes, “a train station (like an airport, a cafe, or a park. . . . or maybe even a youth group meeting, small group or retreat!!!) is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. Each is tethered to a mobile device and to the people and places to which that device serves as a portal.”
|Thanks Ken Castor, for this panorama of our Family Room!|
Which leads to the third front in last weekend’s perfect storm. . . the Youth Specialties “Family Rooms.” This was something new – and yes risky – at this year’s convention. I had a front row seat from conception to development to implementation of these “Family Rooms” as I was a co-presenter in one of the rooms. It was a grand experiment that we all knew was going to land somewhere on the response spectrum from “total failure” to “a rousing success.” In the end, these directed small group experiences between circles of 8 youth workers – many of whom sat together in a circle for the first time as complete strangers – was a great one. At several points I looked around and saw every one of the 40 or so circles in our room sitting on the edge of their seats, eyes and ears locked on the member speaking at that moment. Groups chose to go over time. Groups asked for their photos to be taken together. Groups walked out of the room together and to a shared meal. Groups exchanged names, phone numbers, and email addresses as they promised to take what they started and to continue it. Who knows. . . we might even see a marriage or two come out of it!! It was absolutely amazing.
You know what else it was? It was needed. I walked away reminded that we have all been created by God for relationships. . . real-time real flesh-and-blood face-to-face relationships void of the masks and distance of mediated and curated online selves. These youth workers powered all that other stuff down and focused on each other. . . and they loved it. . . they soaked it up. . . they didn’t want it to end.
So, let’s get our kids to power-down. Yes, we will get push-back from our kids who fear the unknown. . . even if the unknown and not-yet-fully-experienced is what they ultimately crave. To be honest, there were many youth workers who confessed a hesitancy with the “Family Room” concept. Many acted on that hesitancy and chose not to show up. I think they missed out. Those who did show up would say the same thing. That’s why I’m walking away from this last weekend convinced. . . absolutely convinced. . . that if we facilitate opportunities for kids to power-down and then relate, they will fall in love with that which they were created for but may have never yet experienced. Go ahead. . . give it a try.
And for you youth workers planning on showing up in Dallas in a few weeks. . . you’ve really got something to look forward to!