Tethered to Tech

It’s hard to imagine life today without technology.  My blackberry wakes me up in the morning.  It tells me what the temperature is outside.  It guides me when I’m lost, makes sure I know what my friends are up to, and alerts me of the latest news.  It’s been a constant fixture on my desk at work, on our table during meals and on the coffee table when I’m relaxing at home.

In many ways, I’m a product of the always-on tech boom, and so you can imagine my full-body shock when my husband and I landed in Venice for a vacation, and my blackberry stopped blinking.

For twenty-four hours, my mind kept bouncing back to what I might be missing without easy access to personal, professional and public streams of information.  Why didn’t I get an international plan?  What if a crisis emerges at work?  What if something happens to someone in my family?  Can I survive without BBMing my BFFs?  How will I know what the weather is?  What if I am tagged in an unflattering picture?  How will I be able to translate words from Italian to English?

Silly I know, but I missed that red flashing light letting me know someone, somewhere was thinking about me, tweeting at me, messaging me, emailing me, tagging me, etc., etc.  That is, until day two.  Somewhere off the Grand Canal, tucked out of the rain in a tiny café, I realized being unconnected was a great gift.  My senses for the physical world were reawakened—I smelled, tasted and saw the sites in a way that was full-bodied and fluid, without the constant interruptions and multi-tasking I’m accustomed to.  It was wonderful.  I felt like a kid again.  Or, at least, how kids used to feel before they too were tethered to tech.

Technology truly plays a part in almost every part of our kids’ lives.   Technology opens up new avenues for kids to create, self-express, connect, collaborate and learn.  And new technologies that feature education-focused apps can actually make kids smarter.   But, as author Nicholas Carr explains, overuse of technology and our chronic tendencies to multi-task with tech can impede comprehension, weaken understanding and, at times, hinder learning.   “The multitude of messages and other bits of information that the Web fires at us, from emails to tweets to Facebook updates, have also been found to interrupt our thoughts in a way that impedes the formation of memories and the building of knowledge. The more information we juggle, the less able we are to make sense of it all.” (See also today’s NYT article: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price.)

For the kids around me that are heavy tech users, it does seem that they struggle to communicate face-to-face.  So, how do we balance the many benefits of technology with the potential negatives?  For me, our vacation reminded me of the need to balance my connected time with my unplugged time.  Encourage your kids to enjoy the many benefits of the web, while taking time out to do activities that don’t involve their computers or mobile devices.  Another study out of Australia stressed that lack of parental involvement, excessive computer use, and lack of extra-curricular activities were all indicators for risky behavior online.

So, as parents and educators, it’s important for us to help our kids set healthy boundaries.  We recommend that adults use Internet Safety Rules ‘N Tools® to promote safe Internet use.  One of the tools we recommend is to use time-limiting software to prevent excessive time online.  Also, take time to un-tether yourself from technology, set a good example of tech/life balance, and connect with your kids F2F(face-to-face).  As I mentioned in another blog, consider take a family technology break for a day or a weekend.  Enjoy a PDA-free dinner with your family when able.  And with summer right around the corner, there is no better time for your kids and family to un-tether from technology and enjoy life, family and friends without being connected to tech 24/7.

And, please, share your thoughts with us to help encourage others and let us know what you think by leaving a comment below!

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