My kids are in 4th grade. This, apparently, is the year when students can begin to bring their own devices to school. When I heard this at back to school night, I felt a little sick. The teacher, perhaps responding to my face, perhaps having anticipated faces like the one I was making said: “Technology is out there in the world. They should know how to use it.” Yeah. That’s the problem. Kids don’t know how to use technology. My kids get very limited access to the devices we have in the house and they can still fix stuff on my phone when I have no idea what’s going on. But even with evidence countering the reason the teacher supplied for letting kids bring these things to school, this academic argument wasn’t really at the root of my discomfort.
I couldn’t fully articulate my discomfort until a few days later when, as I asked more questions of my kids as to how devices would be used in the classroom, my daughter explained that in art class they would take a picture of their art projects, post them to a central site and then classmates could “like” them and make comments. UGH. It suddenly became crystal clear to me why I was so uncomfortable with the whole thing. One of the things I admire most in my children is their freedom to express THEMSELVES, their true selves. How many more art projects will there be before the desire to accrue likes changes the design decisions that they make? Must we so soon move into the world of competitive perfection and commentary?
Let me pause here and say that I am not against social media. I USE social media. I use it professionally; I use it personally. When the twins were little, I think I would have gone stark raving mad without social media to let me know that I was not alone and that other Moms were struggling too. But I’ve been thinking a lot about social media, the way that it works and what it does and doesn’t represent in our lives. I was fortunate to find a Moms group online where people actually posted terrible pictures of themselves and asked “stupid” questions that so many Moms have. They vented, complained, and sought advice. I’m so grateful to those women, because so much of the rest of the social media world doesn’t show ANY of that.
As the kids got a little older and I had time to begin showering, and potentially to consider adding other activities to my and our days, Pinterest became a regular place to visit. Boy is there a lot of stuff you can do for your kids and your house on Pinterest. I built up boards quickly, pinning all of these fantastic ideas, beautiful visions, perfectly renovated hand painted up cycled retro vintage antique mid-century modern, one of a kind projects. I did execute a couple of things, but the ratio of pinned to done is admittedly quite low. Over time, I more enjoyed the pinning than the doing. And then I could see who pinned my pins.
I could see who liked my completely unrealistic aspirational Pinterest perfect life. They could see everything that I admired and nothing that I am. Occasionally a pin or a Facebook meme will appear that reflects this disconnect. They usually bear the title “Pinterest Fails” or “Nailed It.” I LOVE these. This is actually sharing. One dictionary definition of “share” is “to let someone else have or use a part of (something that belongs to you).” That last bit is the key, something that belongs to you.
In all of that sharing of aspirational life, we are not sharing that which belongs to us. We are not saying anything other than “I like this,” but somehow it takes on the sense of “I am this,” when in reality we’ve revealed so very little of what we really are. If only pins and perfect moment pictures ALWAYS came with a sentence that says “I like this because I think if my room looked like this, the rest of my life would not feel so messy, like this picture of my real room. See how the laundry basket is overflowing? I hate it. I hate my laundry basket. It makes me feel like a failure, which some part of me thinks is really stupid.” OR “Look at this amazing picture of my family on vacation. We’re all smiling here, but 5 minutes later the children nearly ate each other for dinner while their Dad and I argued over how to walk to the restaurant.” That’s the social share that has connection. That’s the social share that actually shares, that lets me be seen, that lets someone else have a part of me. That shares who I AM, not just what I like but can’t or won’t really achieve. This is the sharing that happens when we share for connection, not for likes; when we share for relationship, not for popularity; when we share to find community, not to get a gold star.
I still haven’t decided what to do about this device at school business. For now we are stalling, a time tested parental strategy in the face of questions we are not ready to answer. In the meantime, I’m going to learn from that discomfort and share what counts.