Sitting in a coffee shop yesterday morning we were watching the people interact at the other tables. There was a group of adults with 3 children ranging from 2 to 8 – all three of them playing on some kind of mobile device. Another table had a couple with two children. It seemed like a new relationship between the adults – she was kissing him and sitting facing away from the children chatting to them – so much so that I thought they should get a room. The teenager was on his phone all the time and his younger sister staring into nothingness. I don’t blame them, breakfast out with parents should be an interactive affair. My daughter also brought a new reality into my life. If she isn’t studying or doing homework she is on the Internet, her phone or watching television. Her conversations with us 60% of the day is about what other people at school look like, who had plastic surgery, what they get up to at parties, how mean they are to each other at school. Either “the populars” are breaking children down by throwing insults at each other, or they are “emo” – a term they use for the goth type children, but with it comes cutting and drugs. I know my daughter is a drama queen, but amongst all the children at her school I have not heard of one child that is not dysfunctional. And this is a school where you need a little mountain of money to have children there. I watched a link about bullying – it hit me quite hard knowing what happens at her school –
Couple all of above events and my observations (and I can vent for a lot more than I have) with some research Leon shared with me:
Children who are autistic cannot read emotions, and they can also not express emotions. When you are communicating to someone via any electronic or written communication – email, BBM, Facebook, WhatsApp – you can’t read emotion. Usually your interpretation of this type of communication is based on your own filters and perceptions of the world. If you consider the percentage of time children spend on this type of communication, they aren’t learning how to read and/or express emotions. To learn this you need human interaction, quality interaction. By allowing children to spend so much time on electronic devices, we are effectively creating autistic children.
Couple this with research about the direction most organisations are going. Research shows that the trend in organisations today is to work in teams rather than as individuals. Big corporates no longer have one single person working on a task, but rather teams who need to pull together, interact, develop interpersonal skills to get the job done. Interpersonal skills require the ability to communicate, and to communicate effectively we need to understand emotions.
Here is the future we’re creating – We’re creating autistic children who can’t communicate and learn to understand other people, and then send them into a world where they must be able to communicate…
Think of it, more people are living in complexes today where houses are so close to each other that you can see your neighbour’s pool from your back window. But less people in complexes know each other. When I was young we knew all our neighbours, we socialised with them. Today you don’t know their names. More people go out shopping and wining and dining today, and there is so much opportunity to interact (even if it is a smile), but we interact less. More companies are moving toward open plan, but people who are sitting so close to each other they can pass a stapler will email each other.
Think of it some more. How much easier is it to start a fight over email, than to approach each other and discuss it. From my experience though, a fight is resolved not only quicker, but also more civil in one on one communication than over email, where it can go on for days, even weeks.
I fear a future of cyber warfare, where people will hack into each other’s accounts and erase them from the earth. I fear a future where we’ll be sitting next to each other and be the loneliest people on earth because we don’t know how to interact.
I also believe that there are people who are becoming a lot more self-aware and conscious of themselves, other people and the world. There are a lot more Dalai Lama’s, Mother Teresa’s, Nelson Mandela’s out there today than centuries ago. My question is – are there enough of them to balance the autistic people we are creating, and to maintain peace in an ever growing population. I am striving toward that awareness every day, but when I look around me I feel so small and impactless, and I think that is what scares me the most…
I would like to close off by thanking Leon for teaching me a lot of the aspects about how children develop, how our brains work and how we see life. Without his input, I would only be half as rich as I am now. To see more of what he has to offer go check out http://www.leonfourie.com.