A recent study published in the Pediatrics Journal describes how parents use their cell phones while in restaurants with their children. First the facts: most parents “used some kind of mobile device, either continuously or intermittently or at the end of the meal. Of the 55 groups observed in the study, only 15 had no device in play.” More surprisingly, 16 caregivers used their phones the entire time they were at the restaurant. This means there are 15 caregivers at each end of the scale, with the other 25 using cell phones intermittently.
This report from the study makes me sad: “The girl keeps eating, then gets up to cross the room to get more ketchup. Caregiver is not watching her do this; she is looking down at the phone…Still no conversation … Now girl’s head appears to be looking right at caregiver, and caregiver looks up but not at girl…”
I don’t believe that checking a text message while you are eating with your children is going to ruin their development, but mealtimes used to be one space kids could count on spending quality time with grown-ups. The importance of this time is demonstrated by studies which show that children perform better when meal times are regular and uninterrupted.
The timing of this study delighted me because of how it connects with what I have been reading this week: The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. In this book, the author compares our excessive use of technology to infidelity: a suitable word to describe parents who are more faithful to their phones than their children:
“Daydreaming” was once the temptation of romantics who knew their imaginations could disengage from the local scene and contemplate what life might be like somewhere else. Today it threatens to become a way of life for a society whose technology so easily wags it by the tail. The great advantage of a Facebook friendship, of course, is that it is so easy. I get to choose who I want to “friend” and whose friendship requests I respond to. We gather around our common interests, share the stuff we want others to know, and log off when we feel like it. In many ways what we have is connection without obligation. But intimacy without commitment is what our society has traditionally called “infidelity.” As with adultery in marriage, the problem of infidelity isn’t so much that it breaks a rule as it is that it destroys the fabric of trust that sustains a healthy community. (In a troubled marriage, no one feels this more intensely than the kids.) If our relationships with other people do not entail responsibility and obligation, they are easily reduced to self-serving transactions in a marketplace where everyone else is always trying to sell us something—or worse, to sell us themselves. Such a commodification of life denies in practice the fundamental claim of God’s economy—that all is gift and life is a mystery of divine love.
When I preach to families about technology I always encourage them to put their phones away during mealtimes. Its an easy thing we can do to honor our kids and encourage the development of positive social skills.
In my media and communication classes, I insist that students close their laptops and turn off their phones. I want to capture that elusive and essential commodity: attention. We can’t think, learn, or get in touch with our feelings unless we’ve focused our attention. The social contract is clear: be here now. I even try to teach in a manner that defies note taking. My class is a lived experience that cannot be replicated, captured, or reduced to any other medium…What happens among our community of learners at Pepperdine is designed to spark thought that will reverberate until the next class session. However, when it is time for midterms or final exams, I encourage students to bring their laptops to class. My tests are open book, open notes, open computers. They are even welcome to text message their friends. In real-world scenarios, the challenge is assimilation: sorting through too much information as quickly and wisely as possible. A timed test, surrounded by information, approximates the kind of decision making we face every single moment. With too many sources, where should we turn for advice? Which authorities do we trust, and when do we stop gathering information and start crafting it into something uniquely our own? My classroom illustrates a key tension for every person and every family: When should we immerse in and when should we withdraw from the information torrent (or is that “tyrant”)?
It sounds a bit like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. I bet my students would like their tests but hate the fact that they couldn’t use computers during class. However, if discernment and assimilation are the most important skills for future careers, it may be necessary to change how and why we test.
What do you think? Would you like an open format for exams and a closed format for the classroom experience?
The important thing is to learn how to engage the bits appropriately—to do the right thing with the bits at the right time. To rephrase Ecclesiastes, there’s a time to save, and a time to erase; a time to turn on, and a time to turn off; a time for all actions. But one must always look for ways to let the bits go. There is no other way to work in a world of infinite bits.
The scarce resource is not the bits but our time and attention to deal with them…if overload is the problem, then removing the load is the solution…Bit literacy means letting the bits go; anything else perpetuates the problem.
As Richard Saul Wurman put it in his 1989 book Information Anxiety: “One of the most anxiety-inducing side effects of the information era is the feeling that you have to know it all. Realizing your own limitations becomes essential to surviving an information avalanche; you cannot or should not absorb or even pay attention to everything.”
The bit-literate approach involves creating and maintaining a media diet, a constantly pruned set of publications (digital, print, and other media) that keeps us informed about what matters most to us, professionally and personally. Like every other part of bit literacy, this is a discipline that users must take responsibility for. No one else can create our media diet…Once you have a media diet, you—and no one else—are in control of what you read, watch, and listen to. And you know the specific reasons why you engage each of your sources. Think of the media diet as a team of advisers you’ve hired to inform you about the world, on your terms. As the boss, you have to start by interviewing candidates, making some hires, and then continually evaluating how everyone is doing.
In response to reading this book I took several actions:
I culled my podcast list from over 60 to 25. I wanted to get down to 15 but couldn’t.
I also culled my blog roll from over 100 to 42.
Moved my mail app on my device to the back page instead of leaving it in my dock. In its place I moved my Kindle app so that I will more instinctively read instead of checking email when I don’t have the time to respond to my email.
I started using a tool called “Followupthen” to better manage my email. Bit Literacy describes a similar tool, but I wanted a free alternative. This one best suits my needs. It allows you to quickly email yourself in the future, so that emails only sit in your inbox when they are actually relevant to your life.
What strategies are you using to become more bit literate? Please Leave a comment below.