Grey seals, interrupting. (Photo credit: Stocksy.com)
“Mom, can the new kid in my class come over sometime and…”
“The new kid in MY class from Japan brought in this candy today that tasted like…”
“Somebody said there was a bug in the noodles today, and my whole class was, like, screaming…”
“Tristan’s mom is having a baby…”
“Sweetheart, can you please get my watch fixed before… “
Click. Click. Click.
Somehow my entire existence has become a live-action website.
Each day hurtles at me at warp speed. But it’s not like it was when I was growing up, when life seemed to unfold in a forward motion not unlike the 1970s TV shows I watched after school. Instead, life in my family today seems as if it’s its own social network of bang-bang status updates – an unyielding series of nested hyperlinks, one after another, mouse click after mouse click after mouse click. They carry me, like a cognitive tidal wave, away from whatever it is that I’m trying to say and think.
Perhaps we’re afraid our over-scheduled 40-something brains will forget a thought if we don’t spew it out immediately.
In short: The way we deal with communication on our various screens – click here and get a slight reward – has become the way we deal with it in the real world.
The kids interrupt us. We interrupt the kids. We even interrupt ourselves. Digital-age thinking has me and my husband constantly cutting each other off when one idea leads to another and another and…ooh! Another status update! Perhaps we’re afraid our over-scheduled 40-something brains will forget a thought if we don’t spew it out immediately.
When Generation X was growing up, we learned to wait just by walking (uphill! in the snow! both ways!) through a normal day. We waited six to eight weeks for delivery, waited in line with mom at the bank, waited hours for friends to get home so we could call them on the phone. We waited for the Fotomat to develop our Instamatic prints after we got home from summer vacation instead of posting pictures the moment after a wave hit the beach.
Those tiny interludes of necessary patience – a bit of good old-fashioned, uninterrupted process before the dopamine-laced payoff of results – gave us the skills to wait through the tediousness of an entry-level job to get to the job we really wanted.
They helped us stick with a good relationship that was having a rough patch.
They helped us wait out the process that began with a great idea or creative impulse but took time to percolate.
Our world needs long-term thinking more than ever. And yet, as they struggle to learn the skill, our kids no longer have access to those natural experiences of waiting.
In dealing with my hyperlinked family day after day, I’ve realized something: This is about modern life, yes, but it’s also about something oddly traditional: manners. That gives us power to fight it. And it starts with FREAKIN’ LETTING ME FINISH MY SENTENCE, which will not only keep ME sane but is the front-line building block to patience and long-term thinking.
The continuity of thought that our kids lack in their on-screen interactions – the kind of thought that builds fragments into sophisticated ideas and philosophies and principles – has to come from somewhere. It’s crucial to our continuing success as a society. And fighting the good fight against interruption seems like a good place to start.
We have to work harder than our parents did to teach our kids to let people stick with a topic of a conversation, making sure as we wage battle that we don’t fall prey to it ourselves. We have to lead by example because the forces on the side of interruption are formidable and powerful. Hyperlink thinking has taken over enough of the world. It doesn’t need to take over your family as well.
So take that first step. Stop interrupting. Call out your kids when they do. AND LET ME FINISH MY DAMN SENTENCE while you’re at it. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
Because one day, you might even find out what the candy from Japan really tasted like and how that bug got into the noodles.