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The Challenge of the Selfie and the Great Social Experiment

selfie social experiment

As I write this blog entry, I am driving back on a large charter bus with 50 high school students, after spending the last 3 days exploring the many adventures that the great city of Chicago has to offer.

A high-energy experience filled with museums, college tours, tilting over the John Hancock Observatory, deep dish pizza, and even an evening swim. Throughout the last three days of this fun-filled journey, one of the great “reminders” that was stated every time we stepped off the bus was proper phone etiquette, leaving your headphones on the bus, and not disconnecting from the experience. Much like a game of tug of war, the battle of the phone was a constant. Every stop, there was an opportunity to take pictures, to share with all their friends all the incredible things we are doing.

Several times throughout the experience, I had to pull kids aside to talk about “excessive” behaviors enabled by the crutch of the phone. At one point while listening to a guided tour, one student spent 10 minutes trying to perfect her selfie posing for at least 20 different shots, all while ignoring what was going on in front of her. A few other students, completely disengaged from the tour, were literally standing next to the presenter, just playing on their phones, while a few others hovered over each other staring at their photos trying to edit them for perfection.

Or my favorite – as I washed my hands in a museum bathroom, I watched a young girl pose five different ways in the bathroom mirror as she took a picture of herself! In a public bathroom!! These moments reminded me that we play a very fine line between using technology for good and as a crutch.

The challenges of the impact of technology are vast in size and number.

But in looking at the social emotional development of young people, I have to wonder if we are ignoring something that will impact our world for generations to come. We see the same issue in many adults today, heck, sometimes I catch myself analyzing my own selfie, ensuring only the best images make it to Facebook, and I have to remind myself I am not that important. So what happens when we continue to create individuals more interested in their own self-absorbed world that they miss the world that is in front of them?

So again, we can’t fix the world in a day, but we can have some fun testing the waters. Last summer, when we spent a week in the Appalachian mountains with 42 of our kids, we decided that they needed to experience the trip from the eyes of a child of the 1980’s (aka cell phone free) and upon arriving in the mountains, collected their phones, put them in a bag and locked them away for the week.

Much like any other addiction there were some immediate withdrawal symptoms- whining, twitching, even a few mood swings. However, within a few days, they were actually having fun, playing games, enjoying group conversations, even playing a game they were convinced they had created, called “Telephone”! Yup, couldn’t break their bubble on that one.

We continued this research in Chicago this past week.

Each meal we shared, was shared without the phones. Yes, we had to threaten to take their phones if we saw them, and not return them until the end of the trip, but it worked. Tables of kids were conversing across from one another. One table of teenage boys were talking about disgusting bodily functions, another table started telling jokes, and a third table was having competitions to see who could eat the most deep dish pizza. It was as if we had stepped back in time and for those two hours, the sheer level of noise was welcomed, embraced, and celebrated.

Sure enough the next day we stood at the Chicago Bean and the phones were in full effect, but the joy of dinner that night, much like the memories of them playing the summer before, are strong and still resonate with me. So my question is, do we have a responsibility in monitoring our kids’ experiences today and in monitoring their experiences within themselves? I am not suggesting that we take their phones away all the time, but maybe we need to be more aware of how the phone can limit their experience with the outside world, and determine how to teach them boundaries and discipline, much like we would with anything else we argue needs to be used in moderation.

It is my belief that our responsibility goes beyond just providing them the opportunities to see the world, but opening their minds to the world they can’t see on the monitor of the phone screen.

Even if we create a world of well-educated individuals, if they can’t function in life without the comfort of their phone and the world they create within their phone, then have we set them up to fail in the bigger picture of life? I guess we can’t fix the world and the challenges of technology in one day, but we can engage in social experiments that push them outside their comfort zone and teach them through practice that your life can exist outside the screen of your phone.

So what will be your next social experiment?

For breakfast I had 2 eggs, 3 egg whites, vegetables, swiss cheese, and a bowl of fresh fruit.

Author Profile: @annemarieg

Image credit: Flickr

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