My children are no longer interested in the human experience. Well sort of....but it's a constant battle. Through no fault of their own - they are eight years old - the allure of the screen is simply too strong for them. This morning we woke up to a snow-covered world and we suggested going straight out to play in the snow. They wanted to play on the iPad. A few months ago we experienced a super moon, but they wanted to search on YouTube for videos of super moons. Last weekend was beautiful and sunny - one of those crisp but cold winter days with a un-naturally blue sky. They wanted to stay in and play the iPad. It's not their fault - the desire to use them is simply far stronger than they are. They are of course designed that way.
As parents we consider ourselves 'non-addicts'. We're vocally against smartphones. We see the dangers of over-use of smartphones, and we try very hard to keep our kids enthralled by the world around them....but we've picked a tough fight. A multi billion dollar behomoth wants our kids' attention, wants our attention.....at all costs. That's quite an opponent.
It's like we're competing with a virtual version of the world. Reminds me of the time somebody told me they preferred Italian food in America to the stuff you find in Italy. But that's where we find ourselves - having to convince our kids that the real version of the world is infinitely better.
And what about memories? The ones we create every time we stand up and go outside. The sounds of the cicadas that night we stayed up late to watch the sun setting in France. The smell of the Atlantic Ocean, wet fishing nets and the gentle sound of seagulls as we strolled along the harbour on the west coast of Ireland. The feeling of crisp golden leaves under foot as you walk through a forest in Autumn. Or that time you stood by a blackberry bush last summer and ate the most delicious berries.
Equally as important are the everyday moments and experiences. The things you miss if you're glued to a screen. Boredom, waiting, reflection are all essential parts of the human condition. Experiencing them is equally as essential for children. Today kids have an incredibly low boredom threshold. In an instant world, where pleasure is just a swipe away, it's no surprise that going for a walk holds such little appeal. The human condition requires that we put effort in - we want something, we strive for it, we get it. Although as Oscar Wilde correctly observed - "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it." When stimulation is on tap, and when it's appeal is engineered by User Experience, pixel count and refresh rates....the essence of the human experience is torn apart.
The hand that gives, also takes. The phones in our pockets got smarter, but the price we and our children are paying, is our imagination and interest in the real world. The world is no longer as interesting as the world on the screen. An experience is no longer meaningful if it's not being shared online. That beautiful sunset is not beautiful unless you take a selfie of yourself in it. Those cicadas filling the night air are meaningless if they're not on YouTube. And those blackberries we ate from the bush that summer, never happened if they didn't end up on Instagram with the right filter.
We are all complicit in some way, but nobody more than the companies who create and sell the devices that are robbing an entire generation of their ability to fully experience the world.
You may at this point think 'what terrible parents', and look at those kids wasting their time indoors. The reality is that it's a constant fight, and we impose rules to ensure that screen time is limited to just a couple of hours over the weekend if all homework has been done by Friday. And when they do go outside, they have the best time ever. And when they forget for a moment about screens, they invent the most incredible games with their imagination. But then there's no money to be made in people just being outside, breathing fresh air, going for walks and simply being alive.
The task at hand? In the short-term to re-distract our children. Long term to ensure that a generation who will live with technology all around them, understands the dangers and how to find a healthy balance.