Today, I was filling in for a teacher in cooking class. I was teaching the 7th grade how to cook red curry, make their own ice cream AND baked bananas. It was delicious, and thankfully I had a recipe to follow… I’m the worst with cooking.
Without anyone getting hurt, we managed to successfully cook the entire meal, and it was delicious! As the students sat around their tables waiting for the curry to cook, I sat back and observed them. I let my eyes fall on each one of them and I noticed how they interacted with each other; and suddenly something started worrying me. I saw how 10 kids at the beginning of their teenage years all pulled out their phones as soon as they weren’t entertained anymore. They sat around their tables next to each other, but few had eye contact and if they cared to talk to each other it was about something that went on on their phones.
I remember when I was 13 and took that same class. I went to a small school, so we had to commute to the bigger one and borrow their facilities. We spent the entire bus ride making jokes and laughing with each other. While cooking we would make pranks and we would spend the time connecting and growing closer as friends. At the end of class we would sit down and share the meal while looking into each others’ eyes knowing that we accomplished this together.
This is not what I saw today. In stead, I saw kids who nearly only interacted with each other when needed, because the virtual world was far more interesting.
What worried me even more was when I saw what was on the screens they were all looking at. One of the girls who had, like every one else, pulled out her phone was showing her friends who she had matched with on Tinder. From a distance I took a sneak peak on her screen, and it wasn’t few matches that appeared. And the list of ongoing conversations with the guys was no shorter. At the age of 13 she was already more interested in guys she doesn’t even know but from an app used by grown ups to find hook ups, than the friends right next to her. It was disturbing to me to see how the dynamics have shifted since I was that age. I am no saint myself in the whole online/offline debate at all, but has this come too far?
I sometimes wonder what would happen if we decided to go offline for an entire week. Or less controversial, banned all phones from school premises and forces the kids to talk to one another. I wonder if they experience the same sense of community that I did with my class mates. I wonder if they develop the same social skills and will they be able to interact with other people and show genuine interest in them? Will they be able to stay focused on one task for a longer period of time or even hold conversation with one person and really listen to what they are saying? Do I have a reason to be worried or am I just getting old?
Let me know what you think.