As a child, it never would have occurred to me that life was anything but three-dimensional.
In 1977, I was in Kindergarten. We were taught how to use our 5 senses to experience the world around us: taste it, feel it, hear it, see it, and smell it. Puddles are wet and cold. Play-dough tastes disgusting. Fall leaves look warm and smell earthy. The Concorde is very, very loud as it takes off from nearby Dulles Airport. Childhood is rich in these sensory experiences, isn’t it? Adulthood is, too; when you visit a new place for the first time, especially if it is a very foreign place, all your senses get involved. It’s part of what makes life beautiful and interesting.
One of the other things that makes life beautiful and interesting is relationships. People are 3-D and interacting with others can be a source of great joy. Friendships build on the sensory and create experiences which exist beyond the physical realm and into the intensely personal universe of emotion, memory, and attachment. Not only can I see and hear my friend, but I have something intangible with that person as well. Relationships were designed to have this duality of the physical and the impalpable.
My life was so 3-D for so long that I just took it for granted. I no longer have that luxury and, more importantly, neither do my children.
Imagine that you are a kindergartner today- or a teenager. Life is surely full of sensory experiences and intangible attachments still, but it is also full of something I never had to find a place for as a child: online life.
Online life is not 3-D (at least not very 3-D, not yet). The device you and I hold in our hands for hours is, itself, three dimensional. However, what happens there is mostly in two dimensions and without the full range of sensory experiences. (I have been tempted to try licking my screen when my sister posts a particularly good-looking cake, but I have always refrained.) The friendships or acquaintances we make with people online are only “in the ether”- they have no third dimension. Consider the implications of the fact that online life is simply not real life.
A few years ago, I heard a presentation in church in which the speaker made a very interesting point regarding real life vs one’s online presence. He reminded the LDS audience of a common point of Mormon doctrine: Satan does not have a body. Those of us who do have a body got one by choosing to follow Jesus Christ’s plan of personal agency, which choice involved some element of struggle on our part. We understood that joining our spirits with a physical body (in 3-D) would offer us opportunities for learning, growth, pain, and joy beyond what we could experience otherwise. The speaker’s point was this: Satan still exists and he would love to get you back into the 2-D world so he can have the home court advantage. You are 3-D; understand and appreciate and use the power that comes with that reality.
Whether or not you believe in God, Satan, Jesus Christ or spirits that existed before this life, it is not very hard to see that a person’s balance of online presence vs real life can become weighted toward the online in ways which could result in unhealthy consequences.
What does that mean for youth today? What impact will this element have on their health and relationships in the near future? Jean M. Twenge wrote about this in the September issue of The Atlantic. Her findings are disturbing to this parent of 4 because they highlight the very real risks. I’ve heard these risks before, so this article serves to stoke the fire under me as I work to meet the challenges of raising responsible, healthy, compassionate, empathetic, engaged people. And by engaged, I mean generally interested and active in life AND also willing to marry another person, eventually.
Children’s lives involve so much inescapable 2-D experience. How will they fare in the dating and attachment phase of life? Will they be able to create successful lifelong friendships and stable families? What would help them have a better chance at that? What do they need now so they can keep their interpersonal skills sharp? Obviously they need limits to the amount of time they spend on their devices, but they might also need things to DO in real life- beyond being required to eat dinner with the family. (My husband is particularly adept at creating great in-real-life family experiences and memories. Most of the fun my kids will remember about their childhoods can be attributed to his initiatives.)
I woke up before my alarm this morning thinking about what it must be like to be a kid these days and the difficulty of navigating two universes- on top of all the other issues kids have as part of normal development. Yikes.
I believe that, as a parent, I can help. If I were my 14 year old daughter and I wanted to do something with friends, where would I go with them? To a movie? (More 2-D.) Bowling? Ok, that’s more like it. What if there was a reliable, friendly house they could all go to on Friday nights to play games? That could provide some structure for the “hang-outs” she and her friends are having. Maybe it would even prove useful to my older daughter who lives nearby and goes to college, or to the younger two who don’t own their own devices yet- but will someday.
Friday night games: two or three hours, lots of popcorn, friends (and their families), and a few new games to breathe fresh life into our collection. I recognize that this idea isn’t new- in fact it’s very, very old, but that is kind of the point. Sometimes you have to conscientiously emphasize elements that were once taken for granted in order to retain their effect as society changes.
We’re going to try making this a regular option… because thirty Marens agree that life is pretty great face-to-face and in 3-D.
If you live nearby, come on over. We’d love to see you. Irl.