Auto-Correcting Humanity

I love my iPhone 6S.

Not as much as I love freshly baked apple pie and remembering to put my pants on before leaving the house, but the 6S is probably a close third.  It’s an interesting device in that it’s light, durable, dependable, and has one of the most solid operating systems of any phone I’ve ever owned. In the words of my son, “it’s a keeper!”.  I’ve always resisted becoming “addicted” to my phone, not because of some visual anomaly I’m afraid will develop – although I’m sure there’s an argument to made there somewhere – but because I’m a people watcher, and alas, it’s hard to do be observant of your surroundings when your nose is pointed downward at a 3×6 inch screen.  I do check in with my little Steve Jobs offspring in between patients and perhaps one too many times during lunch, but if I were to forget it at home or leave it in my car one afternoon, my daily life will continue without even the consideration of a special trip to retrieve it. Unless, of course, there’s food involved.

A few months back, Nintendo released the new Pokemon Go game for smart phones. I’m guessing , by now, you’ve heard.  Everybody, everywhere is hunting and catching Pokemon. This brand of hunting – which assuredly is happening in your neighborhood – requires no guns, no arrows, no binoculars, and full-body camouflage is completely optional.  People are walking around hunting and catching make-believe characters which appear out of nowhere, do funny dances, make crazy noises, and somehow “comfortably fit” (straight from Nintendo) into the tiny little multi-colored balls a player virtual hurls in character’s direction. The portal for this psuedo-acid trippish activity is your little handheld device. A device, which by the way, can also be used to access a bank records, listen to a book, check the news, take pictures, illuminate darkness, make a phone call, and even to send text messages explaining one’s boredom driven desire to be teleported into another dimension to a friend – who happens to be sitting at the same table – during an in-laws wedding reception.

It could happen.

Anyway, Pokemon is all the rage.  I’ll admit I was fairly resistant at first, but alas, my son is 11 years old and his persistence eventually won over any resistance I could muster.  Actually, he has his own phone and he didn’t even tell me he downloaded the app, so he had a head start. And so, he plays.   Last weekend, we took a drive into downtown Austin, and walked around the state capitol and along the shores of the Colorado River. The idea was to spend some quality time together – something we haven’t had enough of lately – and my agenda for was as follows…

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Pretty, right?  It was a gorgeous day!  Between the new park we found complete with walking path which winds for miles along the water, the architecture in the capitol building, the wonderful river which flows right through downtown, and the great company of other Austin-ites enjoying the outdoors, the day was almost perfect.

Notice, I wrote almost.

So, now for the fun part – and I mean fun in the fully sarcastic sense. What do get when you mix a Pokemon craze with a vision person who loves to people watch?

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For those keeping score, the kid in the blue shirt with the orange phone is my son.  He’s in this post because, well, my parenting eyes were opened this particular day. Every one of the people I photographed who is holding a phone was “catching” Pokemon, and almost no one was actually talking to each other, much less enjoying the surroundings. He was one of them. It was creepy and surreal, all at the same time. I realized how robotic and anti-social these devices make us, and how dysfunctional some people become when they actually have to interact intelligently with another human being. It made me open up to how much of a technological bubble we are creating for ourselves, and how much skinned knees and riding skateboards are fading into the developmental sunset.

In our business, there’s much made of screen time for kids.  What’s a good amount? How much is too much? How do we monitor and limit it? If you do an internet search on the topic, you’ll surely find several opposing opinions, and your job is to figure out who’s best to decide.  This week a parent asked me a question about two hours versus four hours per day for her six year old son. Rather than spout out my usual canned response which begins with “I’m not a fan of either option”, I simply offered her an opinion on the interpersonal communication lessons and the dynamics of social interaction found in playing with other kids by saying “I know I’m a vision person, but allow me to set that aside for a moment…” and went on to note neither skill can be found on a device. Apparently, my thoughts resonated. Today, that same parent emailed me a picture of her son swinging in the park.

This experience has forced me to ask myself if we, as a society, have taken a myopic perspective on this whole screen time thing. Maybe, we should take a proactive stance on the rebuilding of human interaction, rather than worry about defending against too much screen time. If we don’t at least consider it, 50 years down the road, 2 hours versus 4 hours might be the least of our worries.

Think about it.

Need a more talented perspective? Check out this short clip by Prince Ea…

 

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