Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cell Phones are a Blessing and a Curse

A few years ago, my wife and I were attending her company holiday party.  As we were talking to another couple, the wife realized she had left her cell phone at home.  She said something like "dammit, I hope nothing bad happens at home."  She was saying that the kids were home with a babysitter and if something went wrong, the babysitter wouldn't be able to get ahold of her.  My wife said "what did we used to do before cell phones?"  We all laughed.

I remembered this scene after reading the article below from the New York Times, titled 'Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distractions.'  I also remembered thinking about the ride home after the party, where I thought about what used to happen before cell phones.  We would leave a note for the babysitter with the name and phone number of the place we were going.  If something happened they would call the number and someone would find us.  Nothing ever happened, but we all felt the pang of mild fear in the woman leaving her cell phone at home and couldn't immediately be in touch with her kids.

We gave our son his first cell phone when he was 14.  We wanted to be able to get in touch with him if an emergency happened, but also to contact him after school and before soccer practice.  Originally, we would call him, and leave a message if he didn't pick up.  Then we started texting him.  It was easier and he could call us if needed.

I remember one month, our son used almost 8,000 texts (sent and received).  And our texting has increased over the years.  Last month I used over 600.  We spend over $2,000 each year for cell phones (4 phones total on the family plan with unlimited texting).

My wife went to visit family recently in another state.  While she was gone, we would talk every night before bed time.  But during the day and into the evening, we would text each other occasionally to ask a question, but more likely to tell what we were doing.  "Dolphins jumping OUT of the water!" was one such text from the beach.  When I took a trip to see my parents, I remember my father saying, after watching me send and receive a few texts during the day "I don't want to be in touch with someone that much."  My sister-in-law and her boyfriend, do not have cell phones.  They don't want them.  They don't need them.  Work requires her to have one at times, but otherwise, they have never used one.   And don't plan on it.  They are the only people I personally know that do not have a cell phone.  See how an Iowa couple, addicted to the max, gave up their cell phones for a week.  Can You Live Without a Cell Phone? (ABC News)

Our son is wired.  While he is at home, and not sleeping, he is doing something with an electronic device.  Sometimes two or more at the same time.  He is either playing video games and maybe listening to music (and occasionally texting) or surfing the internet (and occasionally texting) or watching television (and occasionally texting).  Many of his friends do the same thing.  And he doesn't understand when I say something like "you should read a book once in a while."  When he is talking with my wife or myself, and his phone rings, he will answer it immediately.  He says "it's rude to whoever is calling not to answer the phone."  The times, they are a changing.

The article below gives the probable reason for it: there is no 'instant gratification' and 'it's boring to read'. 

His grades are poor (currently C's and D's) and he says he 'doesn't like school.'  Rarely do we actually see him doing any homework.  He is usually playing video games or watching television til the wee hours and then gets to his homework.  If at all.  And even when he does homework, he will watch television.  We have told him that he can't retain the homework information as well if television is going on, but he doesn't care.  "Homework is boring.  TV helps me get through it."

Is this the first generation that will watch grades steadily drop because of 'distractions?'  No.  But it IS the first generation that has more ways to stay connected with friends than ever before.  When the telephone came to be, you could talk with someone, even all day, but it was one person at a time.  Now you can chat on Facebook, update your status, text, talk on the phone, then play networked video games with your friends, while talking to them on your headset (and occasionally text others).

The following article talks about students, their schoolwork and homework, and the distractions that keep them from it.

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction (New York Times)

Comic:  Distraction (All Things Digital)

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