Commentary

Adventures in Babysitting: The High-Text world of Teenagers

  • by , March 6, 2009

When I accepted the job of sitting the 14 year-old sister of my ex-boyfriend, I knew my weekend-long employment was bound to reveal some interesting tidbits. Dinner, last night, proved me right. Not only did I get the low-down on the most recent ex-girlfriend and holiday drama, but in between the conversation pauses to text friends, I began to understand why older generations have expressed so much concern for this cell phone obsessed generation. As “Olivia” was telling stories about school, dance and a recent break-up, her head would drop to attend to the onslaught of incoming messages. Now the $1000 phone bill another 13 year-old friend recently received doesn’t seem so inconceivable.

Ironically, Olivia’s brother was the first person to impress upon me the importance of disconnecting from the outside world from time to time. After months of dating me and my phone, he finally expressed his frustration with my unwavering attention to my text messages and phone calls. Although defensive at first, I began to realize just how often I would interrupt dinner or a conversation with him to respond to a fairly meaningless text or phone call. From then on, I haven’t been quite as attached to my phone.

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Over time I’ve found that when I experience a perspective-changing revelation I insist on imposing my views on the rest of humanity. This is precisely why you’ll find me quoted as saying that I wish smartphones would be sucked into the black hole of the universe, never again to see the light of day. After my “enlightenment,” I became infuriated with friends who at the very onset of silence would whip out their phones to play games, check email or browse the web, and I wasn’t particularly tactful in asserting my objections. Never mind my hypocrisy; I was offended because to me this meant they were tuning out. Clearly, there was something more interesting on the web than present company, and my pride was screaming foul play.

For some reason, what I perceived as rude for my friends didn’t bother me during my most recent dinner experience. Has my opinion changed? Or do I ascribe different expectations for different ages? More than likely, I wasn’t offended last night because I don’t expect her to be enthralled with my company, considering I’m her sitter. Although we’re close, our relationship does not necessitate intimacy and exclusivity like I may expect from a best friend or boyfriend. I suppose I’ll reserve my strong objections and right to demand media disconnectedness for those relationships – is this how we’re to assess meaningfulness and intimacy in our relationships in this new digital age? (Another time…)

When I cut to the core of the issue, I realize the problem isn’t solely with the younger generations or smartphones, but partially with my own presumptions. I assume technology is bad when I’m slighted in a situation - is the device to blame? And what if the other person isn’t mindful of his/her offense? Social norms for the appropriate use and abuse of these new technologies are still in the making. Instead of resisting and blaming these new technologies or the users, I’ll simply be more cautious before assuming it’s a “table for two.”

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