Being Alone Together

Whenever I spend time with this blog, I keep the company of my computer and of others who are bound to their computers. This means I do my best to ignore the living, breathing people in my household.

It makes me think of a story my sister-in-law once told of an academic family she knew. On a typical evening, dad would stare at his computer, mom did the same while their child texted on a cell phone. She said they spent their time being alone, together.

Technology has driven us indoors. Think of the TV and the car (you are inside the automobile). Technology has also turned communal life to individual life. We’ve seen this as the bus and streetcar have given way to the single-passenger car. We’ve seen it as movie theaters have given way to TV, and even more as the TV gives way to the computer.

We’ve been pretty tough on the boob tube. But at least a TV is not an entirely anti-social device. Friends or family can watch a show in their family room, respond to it together and chat about it during commercial breaks.

I knew a couple in Minnesota who filled out some survey about their marriage. One question asked how much time they spent doing social activities together. They figured television qualified, while reading books and doing homework (they were grad students) did not. No comment on Internet use. Their story predated that era.

But here’s my take: Browsing the web? Using Facebook? Definitely not social. It’s just you and your computer in a long embrace.

Child development types today no longer talk about “TV time” when referring to the things you should get your kids to avoid. Now, it’s screen time. Television, computers, cell phones… they’re all video toys.

There are people who say plugging into your computer isn’t so bad. People who play video games claim they’re intellectually stimulating. Maybe my blog is a social activity on some level.

But there is something in my gut that makes me happier to see my children reading a book than playing with an electronic screen. I’m even happier to see them getting outdoors, playing with each other, exercising their bodies and their imaginations.

Yea, I know. You’ve heard all this before. I’m not trying to abolish the household screen. I just want to make sure we treat it a little like strong drink, which you don’t want to get too much of.

I’ll apply the rule to myself and bring an end to this blog post.

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