I’m GenX, born in 1971. I grew up with a black-and-white television. When our first color TV came into the home as I was approaching ten years old, my dad put on the 6:00 p.m. news. After ten minutes of boredom I proceeded to pour my glass of chocolate milk down the back of the set, into the cathode ray tube, and poof, there went the color TV.
We were without television for quite some time.
Of course, there were no devices in our home at the time. You could not find a tablet, mobile phone or computer. Atari did not show up into our house until 1982, and I was only allowed a scant 30 minutes a day anyway.
This musing of my upbringing got me thinking. The technology was supposed to save us. It was supposed to free up our manic schedules so we might enjoy a leisurely life.
But it’s not.
Our busyness and the tethered relationship to an “always on, always busy” mindset is becoming increasingly worrisome. In particular, I believe the way we adults are behaving with our technology is sending the wrong message to our children.
Back in 1931, noted British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the duration of our work week in 2030 would be 15 hours. When I first read “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” several years ago, I thought there might have been a typo. Surely he meant 51 hours.
Written in the midst of the Great Depression, Keynes’ essay suggested that we would no longer suffer from the desire to consume for the sake of consumption. Indeed, our standard of living would be so high that we would only need to work 15 hours per week, having also been liberated by the advent of technology that would do most of the work for us.
In 2018, the prognosis of reaching Keynes’ prediction looks as likely as seeing Colin Kaepernick play football again.
We are nowhere near being liberated from consumption. We are going in the opposite direction. Let’s set aside the consumption of goods and services for a moment. I’m more interested in the use of content.
It’s a different sort of consumption, but it is more relevant to today’s family than ever.
When we are not present—not participating in the moment—and we instead allow ourselves to fall into the trap of consuming content for no apparent reason, it can cause some damage. One relationship, in particular, is that with your children.
If, for example, you are at the dinner table with your children and rather than participating in a conversation about their day, school or studies, you decide to pull out a device and start surfing your stock portfolio, text messages or social media feeds, what sort of example are you setting?
In essence, you have become addicted to the consumption of content.
You are constantly busy, and your children think it’s normal.
I see it all the time. At soccer games, public restaurants, parks, picnics, and so on. Far too many parents cannot stop themselves from the consumption of content while in the midst of their own children. They have stopped paying attention to their kids. They have become lost in a “game of scrolls.”
Keynes, in part, thought we might reach a point where we would put aside our need to consume in favor of a life of leisure and culture. We are nowhere near such a scenario. We possess the inability to discipline ourselves. We cannot stop the consumption of mindless content—particularly in front of our children—and thus we are setting an example that it’s okay never to be present.
Being overly busy is the new normal.
We are adding more consumption to the mix, which is drifting us further away from a life of leisure and culture.
If we do not take back our focus and our willingness to be present, our children will then grow up in a world where they believe it is okay to detach one’s self when in the company of people. Worse, they will choose to interact through a device rather than in a face-to-face manner. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal suggests, teens already prefer to chat online than in person.
I’m afraid we are further away from Keynes’ prediction than ever before.
The best (or is it the worst?) example to illustrate our addiction to consumption through devices comes from a young child in grade two. Earlier in 2018, her teacher asked the class a simple question:
Tell me about an invention that you don’t like. Why?
This child went on to write a heartfelt response:
If I had to tell what invention I don’t like I would say that I don’t like the phone. I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day. A phone is sometimes a really bad habit. I hate my mom’s phone, and I wish she never had one. That is an invention that I don’t like.”
The example—while alarming and incredibly sad—has indeed become the new normal.