Today, Susie and I experienced something incredibly unusual, perhaps even rare.
We had 3 different 1 hour talks with high schoolers – and did not see a single phone. No one broke eye contact to look at a device. No hand grazed a pocket to confirm a notification.
We spent time with 79 young people age 15-18 in a way that could have easily happened 20, 30 or 80 years ago – with eye contact, nods and verbal responses.
Perhaps that is not entirely true. We could not have had these talks 20 years ago, because, we spent part of our time talking about how they use their phones, what they like about them and what they dislike. We have learned that virtually every teenager wants to use his or her phone less. Sometimes they just get highjacked by the content, but most times they feel a social need to keep up. They would like to text or Snapchat less, but they worry they would be bad friends if they did so.
We also talked about the importance of civility and listening to others. Social media is a great way to keep connected to friends, but a terrible place to have nuanced conversations. When we are together, our desire for connection makes us better listeners and more empathetic. Typing on a screen makes us less so. Also, if our online conversations are observed by others, it stops being a conversation and often becomes a performance. This tendency is clearest on Twitter. When I respond to your comments, my audience is not you, but my “followers”.
With rising Seniors, we discussed the ways that our apps highjack our brains. It was intriguing to see how much they simultaneously enjoy the apps like Tic Toc and Instagram AND know that they are being manipulated to watch them too much. Oddly enough, Susie Ma’am and I found this encouraging – at least they know they are being used. We discussed ways to reduce the power of the apps, from turning off notifications to adding software to limit usage.
It seems a tad ironic to be talking about phones while at camp. Afterall, it may be the only place they are phone-free for weeks at a time. Yet camp seems like the perfect place to discuss such things. After all, the fog of constant connectivity has lifted. They are enjoying face-to-face connections rather than screen-to-screen comments.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of camp in general - and the Senior Camper (high school leadership) program in particular – is the experience of being tech-free and happy. This is a special gift in any year, but a particularly potent one during this year of sheltering-in-place.
And they are reveling in it.
As I watched the campers just playing simple water games last night – dunk tanks, slip ‘n’ slides, water balloons – I saw joy.
I have seen young people laugh at a YouTube or Tic Toc video, but I would not describe that as joy, just amusement. Joy is rare and should be celebrated.
We are doing so here.