Recent research (cite) has found that children are on their ‘tablets’ (iPads, etc.) for about three hours a day. They are flipping between mobile, PC, tablet, TV, gaming consoles and back again. Plus, the family is accommodating round individual screens, instead of sitting on the sofa together watching TV. The ‘living room’ or ‘lounge’ is gradually becoming redundant as a place of goggleboxing or even being together. Rather, we are all retreating to our individual rooms, and watching our screens, in our own times, with young people splitting their attention between multiple gadgets at high speed.
No-one knows yet how all of this is going to affect our ability to relate in the future. What we know, in the present, is that there is a great deal of inter-generational strife about when and where to turn off gadgets. Older people, in particular, will crave quiet time or family meals, with no screens; while younger people have become used to functioning socially, with a laptop, phone or tablet in hand, earphones plugged in, or within reach.
In terms of relationships, it is difficult to speak to someone when their attention is half on their gadget. I have a friend who is constantly standing, with his back to me, half-replying to my questions or conversation, while engaged on his phone. I find it irritating, rude even, but when I check if he’s listening, he always manages to ‘yes, of course’. I’m not convinced. Another friend always puts her phone on the table when we have coffee and constantly checks it while we are chatting. I feel cheated of her full attention. Sitting on the Tube, watching everyone absorbed on their screens, headphones, tablets, I muse that it is no wonder that internet dating has become so epidemic. If I dropped my glove, who would notice? More importantly, who would pick it up and make that all-important lingering eye contact?
If you think you are a screenage person, dependent on checking your emails and texts constantly, and hiding behind your tablet on public transport, try turning it off and just sitting or watching for a journey. Note your observations, your feelings, your mood….and what do you notice about others, and yourself, in relation to them? We can’t turn the clock back, or be Canute-like, regarding technology, but we do need to think about how our ability to relate, relationships, and family life, will fare the more we sink into individualistic, even isolated, entertainment. Clearly, only time will tell…