One of the saddest sights I see when I’m out and about is a parent – where I live, usually a mom – pushing a stroller while talking on a cellphone. I want to pull over and scream: “Don’t you get it? Your child wants to hear your voice – this is babble time, chatter time – soon enough they’ll be glued to their own phone. Give them YOU, now.” But, I don’t. I drive by or walk by and thank my lucky stars there were no cell phones when my kids were little…. because I have to wonder if I would have had the smarts to shut the phone off and give my child my whole focus.
I thought of those parents on Sunday when I read the New York Times article, “The Flight from Conversation.” In her article, Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at M.I.T. and the author, most recently, of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other,” begins with these thoughts which certainly spoke to me:
WE live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection. At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates.
Yes, it has happened in my home. In the evenings, after supper, my husband and I might sit with the television on, both of us with laptops in our laps, checking email, facebook, whatever. Meanwhile, our son might be in the same room, or another, on his laptop too. We don’t allow screens or cellphones at the dinner table, but I’ve been with people who do. You have too. You really can’t eat in a restaurant without feeling like you’re eating in a phone booth, for those of us who remember those.
Last June I attended Ann Patchett’s reading at one of our local independent bookstores, Boswells. I remember Patchett talking about how she often feels like she has to jump through hoops to deal with cellphones in stories if she wants those stories to feel contemporary. It’s a challenge. And, perhaps that in part explains why the majority of my writing lands in the pre-cell phone, pre-internet timeframe. People spoke to each other — face to face — not screen to screen. I haven’t figured out how to write an interesting scene with a character who is always hooked up to something.
How do you deal with technology and your characters in your writing? I would LOVE to hear from anyone who feels they’ve made some headway in this area. I need some tips!