Always Recording, Never Listening

The hidden dangers of tap-tapping our parenthood away.

I’m the proud father of two baby girls, the older one in her toddler years. She is everything you could ever want in a kid: smart, funny, sociable, and cute like crazy. I feel infinitely blessed.

I also feel infinitely responsible, like it’s up to me to make sure she stays everything you could ever want in a kid and not get completely hosed. Little choices I make now in my parenting can either set her firmly on the course of successful and righteous living or can send her spiraling down into the abyss of chaotic doom.

OK, maybe I’m overanalyzing the situation. I think she’ll be fine. But one issue definitely seems to be rearing its ugly head more often now which has given me cause for alarm: household technology use.

I put this blog post in the Health & Wellness category because that’s exactly what this issue boils down to. How much technology use is healthy? That’s a question every parent is asking in our current stage of society, and there are certainly many nuances as to why it’s an important question. Yet I’m less interested in asking the question “how much technology use by our children is healthy?” and more interested in asking the question: “how much technology use by us, the parents, is healthy?”

The Magic Glowing Box

An interesting article came across my Twitter feed talking about how Dad entrepreneurs manage the whole work/life balance thing. I put in my two cents (tweet) and that conversation got me thinking even more deeply about how I manage my time and my device usage.

With young children, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is eminently appropriate. They are very hands-on. They see something they find exciting or mysterious, and they’re after it like nobody’s business. So when they see parents constantly tap-tapping on the Magic Glowing Box (as I call it in Dad-speak), well then of course that’s all they can think of doing.

It came to a head one day when my daughter woke up in the morning and the first words out of her mouth were “iPad! iPad!” Really? I’ve helped usher this amazing human being sent from Heaven above into the world to live a life of vast potential and already all she can think about is playing with her iPad???

Then I think about all I can think about when I wake up in the morning. iPhone! iPad! Mac! Internet! Check Hacker News! Check Facebook!

Like father, like daughter.

It’s up to me to set a good example. The behavior I see in my children is often merely a reflection of my own behavior. Which is both the curse and the blessing of parenthood: a curse because everything I do is constantly being copied, the good and the bad alike; a blessing because I can always be intentional about how my actions will affect my kids.

The Bucket of Our Minds

The human brain is a giant bucket constantly searching for stimuli so it can stay filled. Our mobile devices are the perfect source of cheap cranial thrills. We’re never at a loss for a new experience. Just download a new app! Do a new Google search! Play that game again! Check the Newsfeed one more time!

The problem though is in the quality of experience we’re getting.

We’re always reading, never pondering.

We’re always searching, never arriving.

We’re always discovering, never comprehending.

We’re always recording, never listening.

Example: when my daughter starts doing something cure and funny, am I present in that moment with her, enjoying every giggle and every flash of her striking eyes? Or am I already reaching for my iPhone so I can take a video of her? Or even if I’m not, am I thinking about it? Am I planning what I’ll say on Facebook about it? Am I imagining how many likes I’ll get, what comments people will make when they see it?

When we sit down to the dinner table, am I there listening to what my daughter has to say about the day? (Not much yet, but she’s learning new words every day.) Am I reveling in the perspective of her incredible little mind, a stage of her growth I will never experience again? Or am I tap-tapping on my iPad to find out what happened that day in Kazakhstan?

Digital History

Our young children belong to the most recorded generation in history – by far. By the time they grow up to be adults, they’ll already have a digital history a thousands miles long.

In some ways, that’s amazing. I don’t see it as a bad thing. Humans have always valued memory. We’re storytellers at heart. Mobile devices, apps, the web – all awesome ways of capturing events and telling stories.

But I think we suffer when we begin to live the majority of our waking hours in that motion capture and miss the ever-present now that comes and goes with regularly frequency. For it is in the now that insight comes. It is in the now that peace comes. It is in the now when we hear what we listen to, perceive what we see, and comprehend what we’ve discovered. Tap-tapping on a device will increase our knowledge, sure, but I doubt it will increase our wisdom.

Here Comes the Sun, Do Do Do Do

And that’s what I’m most concerned with. I don’t mind if my daughter enjoys playing with a device. (I’ve been using a computer since I was two years old!) In fact, I think the things she’s already learning from playing educational games on the iPhone & iPad are fantastic.

But I don’t want my daughter to grow up addicted to the constant stimuli of touchscreens and Internet feeds and never have find the time to dream, to imagine, to ponder, to uncover truth, to seek meaning – to understand what it means to be alive.

The freedom and privilege to talk a walk, look at the trees, feel the sun on your face, and behold the majesty of God’s creation is far too easy to take for granted. I want be continually grateful and respectful of that divine gift, and to teach my daughter to be as well. There’s more to life than the Magic Glowing Box, after all.

Right? Right?


(Which, ironically, is a statement you’re reading on a Magic Glowing Box because I’ve typed it up and published it using a Magic Glowing Box. Sigh….)

Jared White