While vacationing recently, I was lounging poolside engrossed in my iPad next to my husband who was also busy using his iPad. A woman who had been drinking in the hot tub staggered up to us and slurred, “Come on people, turn off the electronic devices. You’re on holiday, relax. Loosen up. Live a little. Have some fun.” Then she teetered away to get another drink.
There are plenty of articles circulating about how electronic devices are mindless brain sucks breeding a generation of young people who won’t know how to communicate or interact with each other. One photo I saw (ironically, on social media) was a split screen of a group of kids one hundred years ago playing a ball game on the street juxtaposed with a group of children sitting on the couch wired into electronic devices. The caption on the top image where the children were playing: This is life. The caption on the bottom image where the children were fixated on their screens: This is sh*t.
That judgment is oversimplified and not fair. Nobody knows simply by viewing a snapshot what those children in the modern photo were doing on their electronic devices. Maybe the youngest one was solving digital puzzles. If she had been actually manipulating wood carved puzzle pieces as children did one hundred years ago, would that have been a more legitimate form of play?
Maybe the middle child was creating digital music on her laptop. If she had been sitting near the fireplace practicing her violin as they did one hundred years ago, would that have been a more acceptable form of musicality?
Maybe the oldest child was reading The Chronicles of Narnia on his screen. If he had been curled up on the couch reading a thick paper bound book as they did one hundred years ago, would anybody have called what he was doing sh*t?
It’s true, children should experience a balance of physical activity, creative play, and interaction with peers and nature. Are we to assume that because we see them playing on an electronic device that they didn’t just return from an invigorating game of hide-and-seek outside, or swimming, or a play date? Are we to assume that just because a snapshot is taken of a child on an electronic device that the child is chronically sedentary? Are we to assume that the child is playing a violent or mindless video game that will lead to anti-social tendencies and aggression?
The moment when the tipsy woman from the hot tub shared her social commentary with us, my husband was charting out our sight-seeing plan for the following day. He uses Apps to coordinate our train and boat schedules, pre-buy our tickets to tourist sites, check reviews for off-the-beaten-path restaurants, and map our routes. I was reading Dear Life by Alice Munro.
If I had been reading the Nobel Prize winning author’s critically acclaimed collection of short stories from a paper back book rather than a digital book, or if my husband had paper maps and tourist guides spread out on the table, would we have garnered the same critical judgement? I doubt it.
For a living I communicate and interact with people. Sometimes I like to have a break from that. My idea of a relaxing vacation includes reading a good book or two, editing and sharing the photographs I take, experiencing the culture of the place I’m visiting, and video calling with my family back home. All of these things are possible with the use of one electronic device. Sitting in a hot tub drinking all day with a bunch of strangers is obviously someone else’s idea of a relaxing vacation, but that doesn’t mean that what I do to relax is sh*t.