As a cyber security enthusiast, I should probably be pointing the finger at the dangers of weak encryption, poor passwords, social engineering, and government snooping. These are not the primary threats, however, as they act further down the chain. The real threat is how Pavlovian the chime announcing a new email or the vibration of a new text message has become, and how easily they will draw our eyes and ears away from the people we love.
How often have you found yourself competing with a glowing screen for someone’s attention? I know I have, and I know others have competed for mine. Worse, I know my kids have become used to that unfair competition. They compete with my adopted android child, Samsung, far too frequently. I’m feeling increasingly aware and ashamed of this as I watch others do the same to their kids.
I saw so much of that kind of behavior on our recent trip to Disney World. I don’t think it was possible to walk ten seconds without seeing someone texting on their phone, including parents with their kids in tow. And I know there were times when I checked and responded to email from work or, worse, fed my narcissistic streak to see how many of my Facebook peeps had “liked” my latest vacation picture, all while my kids tried to talk with me. It isn’t like I ignored them, of course. I’m remarkably good at multitasking, because I almost never miss their conversation-opening query “Dad?”, and I am able to respond to their questions and comment on their ideas while deftly thumb-typing my latest electronic opus. But I’m not looking at them when they’re talking. I’m looking at a high-resolution AMOLED screen, which, while pretty and brilliant and colorful, isn’t as pretty as my daughter, or as brilliant as my older son, or as colorful as my youngest. Why would I ever choose Sammy the Android over my three crazies? Why do I continue to?
Ubiquitous computing holds both promise and considerable peril. It promises to make us more productive and more informed. It makes us more connected to the world and its web of ideas. Yet, curiously, that world-spanning web, captured on five inches of gorilla glass, entangles us and traps us, causing the bandwidth on our most local of local area networks to slow to modem speed, and drastically compromising its quality of service.
I need to make better choices in how I use the very devices I teach. I think we all do. We need to be able to shut it off.