Distracto-mobiles

I’m taking a film production class this semester for fun. The for fun part is a long story I won’t get into. Today we had our last all-day film shoot for our student group, I was the sound guy and got to hold the boom over people’s heads like a real-life person who’s arms would cramp up maybe less frequently than mine did.

There is a lot of hand-wringing about Kids These Days and their Lack of Social Skills and their lack of reading and so on. And I’m all about blowing the lid right off unnecessary hand-wringing. It’s possible I’m hanging around with exceptional undergrads, and I accept that possibility, but these guys (and gals, but I’m around a lot of guys) are pretty well adjusted. They’re smart, they’re fun to be around, they’re funny, they’re well adjusted, they’re savvy (and media savvy) in ways I don’t expect.

I’d bought into the Maladjustment Hype a few years ago when I had some of my student employees over to play Rock Band. I was worried that it would require me greasing the social wheels with artificial connections between people (“Now, Brad, you know Dante, he also is a male. I also believe he enjoys music!”). Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did they get along fine, were clever and socially aware and savvy, but that I was frequently left out of the jokes they were making with each other, because of a specific social skillet I was missing that they seemed to have. That is, hipness. (Which is FINE, I’m totally FINE with not being hip. Totally. Not an issue. At all.)

These are the same kids who announce their breakups, disdain for hypocrisy, sports teams, and friends by posting about it on Facebook for all 500 or 1000 or their “friends”. The very same. The LOLers.

I’m leaning more and more towards the idea that students are not maladjusted. That they have and use technology more than any other generation I’ll grant you – I think it makes them ambidextrous. They know what to say where, once they get the hang of it. Although I’d be surprised if many of them didn’t change their Twitter and Facebook habits after they got their first full-time job and felt how thin the barrier between professional and personal appearances can be.

But I do worry that they’re distracted. I worry about this because I worry that I’m distracted. I think this is somewhat unavoidable. I think we need to think about it and deal with it responsibly. We have devices that can promise to connect us to something or someone more exciting within five seconds and leave us checked out for about 30 seconds, just enough time to not really be gone and not have anyone notice. And do this 20 times an hour. And pretend we’re still totally checked in, which is kind of funny, because if we were totally checked in, we wouldn’t WANT to check the phone. But I noticed it today on the shoot. Any time that many people were not needed, for say a minute or two, they whipped out their phone and checked something. There was connection, or news, or a game, and that was more appealing than watching people set up a shot or review their lines or get cables untangled. I noticed it in myself – on the third or fourth take of a shot, or when the director took someone aside to explain something, that I would reach for my phone, even though I wasn’t waiting for an email, or a text from my wife, or my turn on Words. It was an escape impulse. I was bored and looking for something else to do.

Again – I’m not legislating for more boredom. I’m just not convinced that it’s always a bad thing. Some of my best moments, some real clarifying, piercing insights, have come to me during moments of boredom where I couldn’t do much more than think. Sometimes those quiet moments have a way of cutting through all the noise and opening doors and windows and shaking out the cobwebs. Some of those moments have also been pretty dull and led to destructive ideas, so there’s a balance there.

Is it critical that everyone stare at each other, waiting for things to happen, and not check out? No. Is it critical that everyone have the chance to escape at the slightest notice, and not have to bear the doldrums between interactions or responsibilities? No. I think the healthy balance is somewhere in the middle there. I feel like coach for a high wire act – “it’s all about balance.”

More on what the balance looks like next time.

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