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People and Screens

November 20th, 2012

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We are living in times where new gadgets and thrilling technology can easily rob us from quality communication and sharing with others, which is what builds true and meaningful relationships. We need to be more careful about the way we spend our time.

screen

What actually inspired my post today was an interview I heard about the modern epidemic of loneliness and lack of meaningful relationships that many people in developed countries are victims of. Part of this loneliness has to do with the concept of individuality and boundaries which is predominant in the first world, but it has been extremely aggravated by the almost inescapable invasion of screens: TVs, iPhones, iPads, Laptops, Wii etc.

A lot of people, including myself, spend an incredible amount of time on the computer, small kids spend way too much time in front of the TV, and then of course there is the time spent with our smart phones and other devices. If we calculated the amount of time we spend with all these devices every day, we would be SHOCKED.

I grew up in the pre-computer era, where the only screen around was the TV, and even then, my parents didn't allow me to watch much of it. I was often surrounded by cousins, friends and family, we visited each other all the time, and when we run into a neighbor or a friend on the street, we always, with no exception, took the time to chat with them. At home, my parents made sure we shared three meals around the table and a nice conversation about our days. There was only one TV in the house and it was in a TV room, not in the social areas.

I also remember my grandmother as a wonderful story teller, she could keep me and my cousins totally absorbed while recounting stories, legends, fables and bible passages. And there were those friends gatherings where people would tell jokes and laugh with pleasure and abandon, like kids, for hours.

When I look back to those days, I realize with great nostalgia how much communication I enjoyed with so many people, with whom I still have very strong bonds in spite of the distance that separates us and the time that has passed.

When I moved to the US as an adult, I had to start building my whole network of friends from scratch, and although I still talk of course, still share, the quality and amount of communication and the depth of the bonds is not the same. On one hand there is the cultural divide, but on the other hand there is the clear impact of the time spent in front of screens or on the phone. This problem is all over the world now, even in my home country, people spend lots of time with their screens, big and small.

The most serious problem arises inside each home, where couples are totally disconnected from each other because they are too connected to their devices. And kids don't get proper attention from their parents because they are in front of the TV or the computer or because when they talk either the kid or the parent is half listening and half checking their smart phone, so there is no room for true communication.

To go back to the interview that inspired this post, the presenter stated that many families nowadays end up having "small talk" or "no talk" with each other and the members of the family loose connection with one another little by little without realizing it, they think that is just the way things are, or that they don't get along so well, but the truth is that: communication which is the pillar of a relationship is not cherished, not respected and not used enough! in many homes.

People wonder why when their kids grow up and leave, there isn't much left of a relationship with one another, aside from blood ties (between parents and kids as much as between siblings). People carry this "loneliness" deep inside and it affects their lives and their capacity to build strong relationships in general.

Communication is not only talking, but also body language and physical connection, so not only the verbal connection is lost, but so is the body language and the physical connection that is so crucial for couples and so important even for siblings and parents with grown children.

One day, I was watching a documentary on TV about a couple that had moved to a tiny remote part of the Patagonia, they had left a busy city life behind and moved to a simple small house with no electricity. When they were interviewed for the documentary, one of the questions they were asked was: what do you do with your free time? to which they replied with a huge smile in their faces: we make love, we talk, we visit with friends. WOW I thought, how nice is that!

Another big problem brought by modern technology is the prolongation of our workdays almost to no end. With internet and cell phones, people can not properly disconnect from work once they leave the office, work follows them all around, and that also takes away from building meaningful relationships and spending quality time with families.

I remember not too long ago, Ecuador (my home country) had electricity rationing, we had no electricity for days on end. I truly enjoyed that time, because it brought us back to the basics, with no electricity, there was very little we could do, so, we spent more time with our family and friends, we went to bed early, we enjoyed long candlelight dinners and heartfelt conversations, we relaxed about the work not done, because it was out of our control, so we let go of it peacefully, we slowed down the pace... it was truly a gift!

So, to sum up, most of us definitely spend way too much time with our devices, so I encourage you to reflect on what are you missing because of this and how you can take some of that time for building meaningful relationships, reconnecting with loved ones and also connecting to nature, pets, etc.

Remember that we do have a choice, and although it is not easy to go against the current, you CAN take control of the technology and not let it take control of your life. I have heard of couples for instance that decide to turn everything off past 9:00 PM, they do not take calls, nor check their computers or phones, not even watch TV after that time, which allows them, sometimes even "forces" them to spend time together and reconnect.

The same can be done with children, we can minimize the time we allow them to watch TV or play video games, this is hard, because we will likely encounter resistance, tantrums and we will also loose quiet time for ourselves (I admit I really enjoy the peace and quiet when my kids are in front of the TV) but it is important to teach our kids how to stay grounded on human reality as opposed to living a virtual one.

For my US readers, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
Enjoy time with friends and family and don't forget to put your gadgets and screens aside!

Have a great week!

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