Facebook adds meaning to your life. No, it’s just a rush of dopamine, after all.

28 Jul

I have a FB account again. Told myself I’d use it only to stay abreast of my friends and groups. Yet tonight I clicked, and clicked–added books to the “read” list (with dubious intentions–trying to impress?), made some friend requests, threw on a few photos, scrolled down the never-ending column of friends’ posts, wondering if I should defriend a few because, as much as I like them personally, I don’t need to hear from them this way–it makes no difference to me or them. If I could adjust the frequency of their updates, perhaps…

I feel the dope when I go to WordPress, too, but at least (after checking stats), there’s some work involved.

My kids are also addicted, in more ways, and I have to figure out how to help them. In a family meeting today, I confessed it’s new to us, this challenge of helping them use technology appropriately, monitoring them reasonably. Told them I don’t expect them to like being questioned, monitored or limited, but that it’s our responsibility, and we can’t assume they have enough wisdom to make the best choices on their own. For example, my husband and I told them that from now on their right to use the smart phones and internet service we bought them (and for the youngest, the family computer) was directly linked with their contribution to the family, in household work, in good relations among members, and in being responsible. That’s a start, but we need to come up with a more comprehensive plan for other ways to help our kids with this new opportunity, responsibility and source of temptation. There just no guidance for this in our otherwise excellent childrearing classics.

Last month I read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. My son’s karate sensei told me about it, and about what he’s observed about new students coming into the dojo. It takes longer, he said, than it used to, to teach them sustained focus, concentration, and rigor. This is consistent with the changes that are being effected on young people’s brains by computer games and the internet.

When I was growing up, my father was continually reminding us to turn out the light when we left the room, close the door when we went outside, and put on our seat belts before we drove off. There were good reasons for all these actions, but reason wasn’t enough to get up to habitually do them. We did finally get into the habit. My parents also purposely did not keep a television in the house, because they didn’t think it was a good, necessary tool in children’s development, and was likely to make us lazy in mind and body if we had the opportunity to get in the habit of watching. Why not at least teach us responsible use of television rather than eliminating it? They did not regard it as a necessary part of life or culture.

For my part, I do not have the option of denying the children smart phones–not because I believe they are a necessary part of life or culture (even though going without is even more counter-cultural that was being T.V.-free years ago)–it’s a Dad thing. I was brought up to be skeptical of social trends, and mass culture technology trends in particular. My husband grew up more mainstream than I and then went into software, and he’s so immersed in technology he leaves the burden of doubt on the naysayers. He sees cell phones as necessary for teens, and smart phones as only a small expense for the increased powers they offer.

My teens are plugged in way too much for my liking. I continually remind them to do something real, to move their bodies, talk or play with a real person, create a genuine physical object with hand tools. I hope I can somehow keep that creative, personal part of their thinking alive, and keep them in the habit, keep those neural pathways open, and at the same time create some advocates of the same in the next generation. Many times I despair of success–it takes a substantial adjustment, a withdrawal period, really, for them to adjust to the real world, let alone appreciate it and the family members in it. It’s hard for me to have patience with them about this, because I still prefer the real world, and want to stay that way. I want them to just wake up and say, like Carr did, “I missed my old brain.” I want them to take up painting, sewing, woodworking, cut, glue, pasting again. But these days, I have very little room to lay out materials for to entice them into creative projects. Hope that will change after this home redo is done. And I get that surge of fall energy and drive, and a kind of moral force and cheer that’s more winning than the tired, repetitive scolding and pessimism I tend to fall into in the summer heat. An endless supply of apps will never substitute for the real world, where there are real people and useful work to do.


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