By Brittany Gebben

I’ve recently become more and more aware of my compulsive need to pick up my phone and check emails, reply to a text, open an app or simply scroll.  I’ve been challenging myself to limit screen time and have found that it’s not as easy as I had imagined. It’s quite humbling to realize how little control I have over the impulse to pick up a screen.  Not only will I log on for work or socially but also even as a fix to boredom.

So, when I recently attended the TEDx Macatawa event and heard Veronica Kirin’s TED talk, “Your Grandmother Uses Technology Better than You”, it really captured my attention and I was intrigued by her adventurous and thought-provoking research trip across the country, driving 11,847 miles to interview 100 elders on their take of how technology is changing America (and beyond).  

Kirin found that America’s elders (specifically those that have witnessed the introduction, evolution and takeover of technology) are saddened at how technology is affecting our society, especially our youth, and that they caution younger generations of the toll it’s taking on their relationships with others, but also admit that they’re equally amazed at its capabilities and the things we’ve accomplished with technology.  For example, one of the interviewees, that had been sick not long ago, was recently able to connect with loved ones across the world through video chat and the use of social media… something that wouldn’t have been possible just 15 years ago.   

Kirin mentioned that 25% of the people she interviewed have since passed and she stresses the importance of talking with those that have experienced both the introduction and boom of technology to gather their opinion on how technology is changing us.  She details the thought-provoking interviews in her book, Stories of Elders.

Although technology has given us amazing and seemingly endless opportunity, it has also distracted us from being present with our surroundings.  As a whole, people are constantly distracted by the mobile world. In one example, Kirin gave the example of the infamously dreaded wait at the DMV.  Not too long ago, as we sat and boredom overcame us, we would look around and notice our surroundings, becoming aware of the room’s happenings, strike up a conversation with the person next to us or work on something we’ve brought along.  Now, with the expectation that we’ll be bored, it’s as if we’re on autopilot to pull out our phones even before boredom has a chance to set in. We walk up in line and pull out the phone.

It’s becoming harder and harder to “disconnect” from technology in the world we live.  Technology is all around us and we depend on our screens to manage our day to day calendar, work, to do lists, social interactions and more, but it’s up to us to choose to not to go down a path of total human disengagement at the same time.  

Kirin stated, “even when we’re together, we’re often not together.”  This statement really left me reflecting on the importance of appreciating technology for its advantages and opportunities it provides but an even bigger importance of remaining aware of the hinderance it can cause on our relationships.

She continued on to give ideas of ways that we can break this spreading epidemic…
– Weekly dates with spouse or special person in our life with phones left behind, allowing for deeper connection
– Monthly tea parties or brunch with friends where technology is not invited, allowing friends to converse and open up
– Plugging the phone in to charge in a different room during certain hours together (family time) or when you want it to be “off limits”, allowing everyone to be not only physically present but emotionally and mentally as well

I’ll end in asking the same question Veronica Kirin asked our TedX Macatawa audience, “Will technology supplement lives or hinder them?”  It’s up to us to choose.