Not better, but different

Is this better or different…



….than this?




Many would look at the first photo and see it as a wonderful family evening. Some may see the second photo as a sign of our society being turned into cyborgs. One of the ongoing debates discussions around attention, socialization and time often pits books vs computers. We've stopped saying reading vs computers because we at least realize that we can read on a screen too. But for the most part books are seen as more intellectual. We can narrow and define the cognitive process of reading whereas being on a device seems like a parallel activity, we know the range of activity is too broad to compare it to reading.

I took these photos, staged as they were, (watch for these to appear in a presentation)  to help me illustrate a point around our perceptions of what is meaningful and intellectual. Our societal bias usually leans towards the idea that books are more virtuous than technology. There's this feeling of guilt if you tell someone you spent the entire evening online but a sense of accomplishment if you say you spend the evening reading a book. Is it because we assume the default for reading is Shakespeare and the default for online is Facebook?  Perhaps statistics would suggest that's not far off, yet these generalizations are dangerous and often polarizing. 

There's two things here I think are most important to discuss. First, I think we need to ignore the medium and talk about the content. What books or magazines were they reading? What were they doing on their devices? Why? What value does it have?  I think the answer lies in intention. Whether they were reading a trashy novel or article, playing a game online or chatting with a friend, it always comes down to attention and intention. Being purposeful is something I've been cognizant of lately and will continue to try and be more intentional with my time and attention. That means acknowledging that socializing is important, be it face to face or online.  Watching or reading a variety of content from self help books to stupid cat videos is important

The other idea is the that of presence and space. Being aware of the space means attending to those in it. While there's nothing wrong with spending some quiet time alone and together, at some point this seems wasteful. In the same way our schools need to leverage the presence of each other, that should be in our minds at all times. Books have the potential to destroy community as well.  Ze Frank so eloquently takes a seemingly bad image of being disconnected and illustrates how it's doing the opposite. 

Whether it's with a book or a device, community and family happens as people share and experience life together. That's why photos like this make me smile.

So rather than characterizing books as good and wholesome and technology as frivolous, let's ask better questions and make better observations.