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Life with a smile: The ups and downs of constant connection

By KATE SNYDER

Community columnist

Long before the COVID-19 shutdown, I had a complicated emotional relationship with technology. 

I’m by no means a luddite when it comes to computers and screens. My dad was a professor of instructional technology and when I was in high school, he taught my teachers how to incorporate technology into their classrooms. We had computers when I was growing up and to this day, Dad loves to explore new tech toys like portable scanners and connected home devices. I use computers in my personal and professional life all the time.

And yet. When it comes to my parenting, I have been hesitant to embrace this brave new world of interconnectedness. I take seriously the research that warns that constant screen use is permanently rewiring children’s brains in ways we don’t fully understand. I am wary of the siren song of video games, and I am horrified by tales of what preteens experience on social media platforms, be it cyber bullying or pornography. 

Every time I let the kids veg out to bad Disney+ sitcoms, there’s a voice in my head whispering that such dereliction of parental duty will definitely cost me points in the coveted (if imaginary) Mother of the Year trophy competition. 

But now? Lord have mercy, if I thought screens were ubiquitous before, I have to look back at my pre-pandemic self and murmur “bless her heart.”

Our whole world has moved online. 

On the one hand, there is so much potential. Free streaming theatrical productions. Behind-the-scenes tours with zoos and museums. Online board game nights and trivia nights and book clubs. A huge push to reconnect with friends and family whose connections have grown a bit dusty. My folks and I Zoomed last week with longtime friends that I hadn’t seen in 10 or more years. My youngest daughter spent 45 minutes on a video call with a friend, chattering happily and periodically dashing off-camera to change outfits. 

My partner and I binge-watched Tiger King together over Netflix Party.

This is the world we live in and often, technology feels like an amazing gift.

But on the other hand, it completely overwhelms and exhausts me. I cannot keep up with the constant barrage of information and stimulation. Although I am used to spending most of my workday looking at a screen, the interactions are different. Now there are video staff meetings and webinars, not to mention the difficulty of juggling my computer needs and those of my children, who wish to connect with friends and are expected to show up for classroom meetings. 

Our world has become a reality TV show, with the cameras always running. Thank goodness the audience is usually very small!

Sometimes I am reminded of the early days of parenthood when I had a baby constantly attached to me and I grew desperately tired of being touched. I get that same sensation at times — except the ‘touches’ are digital. My phone seems to ping constantly, a steady stream of interactions. I had thought that social distancing would leave me feeling isolated and lonely, but at times the tidal wave of digital human connection can threaten to drown me.

Although I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to connect with friends I haven’t seen in a while, the most peace that my soul finds right now is not in a Zoom happy hour but in a quiet evening spent alone in my room, making art and listening to music. 

I am grateful for the technology that makes our lives easier and allows us to stay connected. But sometimes I need to turn it off.