March 12, 2010

Our Digital Responsibility

Usually I write about travel and places to go. But lately I've been working on a project related to our new iPhone app, and have some commentary to share. When we are out and about, I can't help but notice how many people are walking around staring at their smartphones. Could these technological advances be too much of a good thing? How does this constant access to information affect our children, and their behavior?

As a mother of two young girls, I feel it’s my duty to keep current with digital media so I can be aware of what’s coming their way. But my worst fear is that the world will turn into a land of electrified zombies, deriving self-worth from the number of text messages sent or received, or the accumulation of virtual goods. What is my responsibility, as a parent, to keep enough media in our lives to be useful without creating addictive habits?

I’m paying attention to two forces behind the kids and technology debate:

1) Potential consequences of spending too much time online

2) Potential benefits of new technologies for educational, developmental and creative uses

Many of us seem to be aware of #1 or have heard the buzz in the press about the negative effects of too much screen time. So as a parent, what are my options? Do I cut all of the cords? What I’m hoping we do is channel the technology adoption towards #2. But this will be an active process, not a passive one.

Together with other parent developers from Moms With Apps, we are working on key principles of healthy media habits that work within our own families:

• PLAY should be open-ended, MEDIA should not be. Practice moderation by setting the right example. If you don’t want your kids to zone out in front of the screen, then stop constantly checking your own devices. Recognize that technology can be addictive. Set boundaries and limits that work for your family, and enforce the rules. Don’t be afraid to TURN IT OFF.

• Stay current. Now is not the time to hide your head in the sand. Technology has reached new levels of rapid fire development. Companies that are only two years old, are OLD. We move on to new things more quickly than we can blink. Keep your eyes open and your skills agile. Knowing how to work the latest communication platforms will keep doors open in the longer run for communicating with your kids.

• Keep it public. Computers and devices should be kept on the main living level so parents can monitor online behavior. Should technology be a tool or a lifestyle? The only way to manage an appropriate balance is to be aware of what’s going on behind the screen.

• Choose good content. You have twenty bazillion choices of where to go or what to download online. Choose the good stuff.

How do you know what is good? The barometer we use is this – does the technology we are engaging with help us live our lives more fully, or is it merely consuming our lives? Is it interactive, or passive? Is the technology starting more conversations, or limiting them? We realize that each family will need to strike its own unique balance. But overall, we want to make sure that number #2 comes out on top, and that as new technologies emerge, that they encourage more life experiences, not fewer.


Jen said...

These are great tips and oh so true. I carry all of my stuff with me when we travel and I know sometimes the urge to post something or "check in" overwhelms me much like hiding behind a camera the whole trip does. I want to set a good example for my kids. I would prefer them to look away from the DVD player out the window to see the landscape once in awhile so I need to do the same!

Rachel Plunkett said...

Hi Lorraine, Good advice. I am constantly telling the kids and significant other to turn off the TV and go outside ( as I turn back to the computer, and my web surfing). We could all use a little unplugging.

Carolina said...

Diego said to me the other day: "But you're always on your laptop!" Oy, the dagger.
He's right, I told him that sometimes I'm working, and other times I'm not. And that I'd like to turn it off sometimes, to do other things.
One of the reasons I like to get out and do things is that there are less digital distractions at the zoo, the park, the beach, the museum.... :)

Lorraine Akemann said...

I get the same daggar comments! Which is likewise the same reason I like getting OUT of the house! Keeps us healthy, outdoors, and focused.