No wonder we are becoming an extremely polarized society: people, especially young adults, are walking around with mp3 players, cell phones, and earphones everywhere they go. They may be physically in one place, but they are interacting with an entirely separate virtual world. When I walk around the streets, what I see are people walking around not hearing birds, not talking to people they encounter, not hearing bikers or cars approaching, and generally being in another mental place. I see little conversation between people on the street. No meeting new people or interacting with strangers. I think this is a shame. I think this kind of isolating behavior is not good for the individual immersed in portable media, but I think it is also bad for our society as a whole. It’s easier to succumb to the danger of becoming rigid and dogmatic in your thoughts if you are not forced to encounter opinions other than your own. Portable media creates isolation.
The world needs more tolerance and understanding, not less. That’s why travel, both local and distant, is so great. You meet new people from other cultures and backgrounds. You are forced to see the world from their perspective. You are forced out of your own comfort zone and see the world through a different lens. In my opinion, parents need to understand the isolating effect of cell phones, portable media, and video games and actively counter their effects. Set a good example by greeting people on the street, seeking out friendship with people with different backgrounds from your own, and showing a curiosity about people and things that are unfamiliar to you.
My daughter and I love to wander and take pictures. It’s our hobby that we have shared for years. I always tell her that no matter how many pictures we take on an outing, if we get one great picture the whole day seems worthwhile. I think the same is true of encounters outside your normal sphere of comfort. In your travels, if you make one new friend, learn something about the world you didn’t know before, or see life in a broader context, the whole experience becomes worthwhile. If you and your children do use the new portable media, make sure you strive to spend an equal amount of time showing a curiosity about what is around you.