I am taking an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress reduction class and it’s making me think especially hard about the technology that surrounds us. All. The. Time. It’s not completely new that I am concerned with the ills of being connected, we chose the kids’ school largely based on their low use of technology. Waldorf Schools ask that kids not use screens during the school year at all, or at least to refrain during the school week. We mostly adhere to this, but it takes a very conscious effort. The screens have multiplied as Lily has gotten older and she now has her own phone. Whereas no screens used to mean no TV, now there is this tiny, little screen that she can hold in her hand and I find myself wondering if weeknight glances at that are as detrimental as watching a show on TV. Like, when I order one juice for the kids and then split it in half and water it down, surely using her phone to sort pinterest recipes is better than something longer, on a screen that is bigger? When deciding to permit that quick-ish look at something that’s at least half creative, I find myself mentally bargaining with the invisible technology god to make Lily’s limited use of technology be okay. The real question, and my real worry, is what will “okay” look like when the kids are older? It does not seem okay when people come through the store and look around, make a purchase, and walk out without having done more than mouth “sorry” and “thank you” to me at the register. People are never alone anymore, and it makes me sad to think this is how my kids will become despite our having withheld screens longer than some other parents.
When I entered college, my incoming class was the first in our school’s history to start our advanced education with an email account. Even then, a zillion years before I was a Waldorf School parent, I had an aversion to using my computer for more than typing and printing. That email account made it possible to send messages to others within the Hampshire College Intranet and it was a modern day miracle to check if a book was in at the library or to be able to request for it to be held when it was returned. Even then, I would travel to the library to look up the books I wanted and it was until the very end of my four years of college that I started using that dinosaur version of email rather than knocking on a friend’s door. 6 years later, when I was in graduate school, I couldn’t believe what you could do online! In my grad school studies I mostly used journals and research articles rather than full books, and JSTOR made it that you never needed to leave the house to write a paper! Which also meant you didn’t take need to take a walk, or talk to a librarian and maybe run into friends while you were there. I almost always chose to take that walk and I sheepishly looked for hard copies of journals stored in a library pretty devoid of people--and that was 16 years ago!
It’s funny when the kids don’t recognize something that was commonplace to me when I was their age. Encyclopedias! Pay Phones! Video tapes! Inevitably, innovations of a generation replace innovations from the generations that came before them, but what is missing now is not so much physical objects as the behavior that went with them. Not long ago, Lily asked me what one would do if they were running late to meet somebody, how did you contact the person who was waiting for you? You didn’t let them know, because you couldn’t, and I am sure that I run later now than I did 15 years ago when I didn’t have a cell phone! My cell phone allows me to own a business and still be with the kids most of the time that they aren’t in school, and I am grateful for that. My grandparents owned a small jewelry store and my grandfather missed lots of our graduations and school plays because he stayed behind to keep the store open and let my grandmother show up. But the modern day version of me getting to show up is that my phone is on vibrate and I am constantly anxious that I am 10 emails behind and letting down my employees and vendors--even while I am lucky enough to be able to be out of the store.
Last week in my mindfulness class we talked about the fight or flight response and how it may have served our ancestors. If you were attacked by a herd of mammoths in a field you would probably run away and not to go back to that field, lesson learned. Using a working definition of stress as our perceived reaction to a situation, how does fight or flight manifest itself today? It’s sort of like we re-live the same stressful situations over and over, just different examples of the same situations (sort of a same shit different day scenario). Mindfulness is a way of controlling our response to stress--but enacting mindfulness is really the antithesis of what has become our natural way. Formal meditation and even just taking three deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed is about overcoming that plugged in, always being reachable feeling that has become innate to us.
We want the kids to walk through the streets facing ahead and not down at their phones, we want them to be inclined to talk to people in stores and we are trying to model how to eat a meal without being pulled by the ding of incoming calls and messages. This Summer we fell way off of our school year diet of screen free days. On long drives we let the kids plug into ipads and cell phones -- us, the couple who used to make fun of families in cars with kids wearing headphones; we swore we that we would use long car rides for family time and here we are with a mini-van full of screens and headphones! We had to laugh at ourselves when we would arbitrarily interrupt the screen filled drives with random admonitions to turn everything off. Look up at the Catskills! Look at all that corn growing! Cows on the left! It would last for a bit until Abe, mostly, would ask if he could stop looking and go back to his game. Despite our Waldorf proclivities to limit the screens, it sort of feels like we are fighting a battle we won’t win.