Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Babies and Devices: Observations from the Grocery Store

This may come across as a "back in MY day... " rant, and I hope it doesn't. But I can't help but write about something I've noticed going on around me in cafes, stores and markets lately. Nearly EVERY young child, with the exception of a very small handful, are sitting in shopping carts or at tables with a device in their hands, be it iPads, mom's phone, whatever. Almost every single one! What is up with that?! The other day I saw a little girl who looked to be barely a year old, playing with her mom's phone. I find this so, so disturbing.

I've written about my feelings on technology here in the past (see "Technology, Media and Simplicity") but boy-oh-boy in the two years since I wrote that post, it seems to me that tech is now even more pervasive than ever, and that is NOT a good thing.

In addition to the damage being done to young brains from these devices (see this article) I'm also really concerned about what these kids are missing out on by being hooked up to a screen while out in public. Back in the "before device" days, when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers, going out and about to stores, cafes and restaurants was a regular part of our life, and going to these places gave my kids the chance to interact with other humans in meaningful ways. Every Friday I would take my kids out grocery shopping. While we made our way through the store, we talked about what kind of cereal we'd buy, counted oranges, and discussed what colors the apples were. They behaved in the store (usually) without a device because they were involved and engaged, and not "tuning out" with a smartphone. Also on shopping day, we'd stop to get a smoothie at the juice bar. Bette, The Juice Bar Lady, would make small talk with the kids while she fixed their smoothie... telling them she liked their new hats, or asking if they're excited about their new little brother, or what's your favorite fruit? Would Bette have bothered to try to engage my kids if they'd had their noses buried in a screen? I'm thinking maybe not. When we waiting for our food at restaurants, my kids were occupied reading picture books, drawing, playing tic-tac-toe or I Spy. They were actively engaged with the other humans at the table, instead of a smartphone. And these interactions, me, with Bette, and various cashiers, waitstaff, fellow shoppers and restaurant patrons, were such valuable experiences for my kids. They learned so much about the world on all those outings. All these babies I see with device in their hands? They are totally missing out on these experiences... and what will be the long-term effect of this?

I'm not sure I want to know.

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