Thursday, May 21, 2009

Doin' the shuffle

If you have kids, you've seen the pose -- head bowed, shoulders slack, full attention focused on an object cradled with both hands, totally oblivious to surroundings.

I've come to call this behavior "text shuffling."

The KintlaLake spawns are certifiable text-messaging addicts. After waging a long and lonely battle to manage their dependency, about all I accomplished was to ban texting at the dinner table.

Other than that, virtually any time we summon or try to speak to them, we're interrupting a texting session. It's strange and more than a little disappointing. I continue to crack wise and poke fun at them over it, but resistance is futile. I've abandoned the fight.

I embrace the technology myself, and I've found text messaging a most handy way to send and receive bite-size bits of information quickly and easily. On average, I suppose I send 20 or so a month.

(For the record, I text in complete words and sentences, with proper punctuation. Most of the time, anyway.)

The instant that a convenience becomes a fixation, however, it's a problem. This obsessive immersion in technology -- whether it's text messaging, e-mail, GPS, video games or "social networking" sites -- comes with a price.

Social aptitude suffers and the ability to communicate atrophies. (I'm talking about the face-to-face kind, not the disembodied electronic variety.) Basic skills can't be applied because they never were learned. And most disturbing, I think, is the isolation, the walling-off of the physical world -- especially for impressionable young people, that can be crippling.

Embracing technology may be essential to functioning effectively in today's society, but being present is essential to survival. Sadly, we're raising a bumper crop of kids who are largely absent.

They don't operate in the great span of this world, sentencing themselves instead to a very small, self-absorbed space. They miss moment after rich moment, somehow managing to overlook the simplest and most necessary things.

Bearing witness to a generation's entropy has its lighter moments.

"I wish there was a way to text without typing," our older spawn said last week. "Y'know, so you could hit someone by just talking."

"Something like voice-texting?" I asked.

"Yeah, like that."

"The technology already exists," I said. "It's called a phone call."

That was way, way too easy.

As I watched the 17-year-old text-shuffle silently out of the room, something about his posture and sloth-like movement struck me as familiar...the bowed head, the singular focus, the sacramental devotion to the object cradled in his hands...I wondered...

At some point, the whole celibacy thing might become an issue for him, but hey, at least he's got a transferable skill.