I think we might be getting it.

I just finished a two-week solo road trip where I had a lot of time to people-watch… and I saw something that made me smile… and hope.

People, both strangers and friends, were looking down at their devices less. Phones were turned off before visits. If someone pulled out their phone during meals or conversations they were sanctioned with “Really?” and “Dude, put it away!” Groups of teens walking down the road weren’t looking down at their phones like slack-jawed cyber-zombies, but were talking and laughing together.

Had I time-traveled or gone to an alternate universe where our phones were useful devices like blenders and chainsaws and cars… used when we needed them, and not implanted into our hands?

I came home to write this blog and began looking for research to back-up my observations. Found none. But that’s okay… most research on the cyber-world is about two-years behind. But trends are noticed immediately… by trendsetters… of which I am not one! So I found one. I had coffee with this adorable twenty-something who has always been one of my experts on cyber-trending because she’s ridden the social media waves since she was ten, and has kept up with it with almost professional status ever since. (She was the first to give me the hard news that Facebook was now only for old people).

I told her about my observations… and she said, (I wish I could imitate her fast and completely self-confident voice because it elicits not only a smile, but a complete trust in her cyber-expertise), “Yeah…. so we’re not on it all the time anymore… and we’re blocking haters… and its impolite to choose your phone over a real person… we’re hanging out more. The social media hater thing is really done. I mean there will always be people who say horrible things, but that’s not most of us anymore… we just block them and report them… millennials really don’t put up with that s*** anymore. They can fight with each other.  We’re sort of done with all that.” She told me they are making most of their social media private… so that they no longer allow every soul on the planet to read or comment on their posts. They also limit how many social media sites they are on because, “Really, who has the time?”

Then I was talking to a doctor friend of mine who works mostly with kids. When I told him of my recent observations about cyber usage, his eyes lit up.  He said, “I haven’t said this to anyone, but I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to my clients now, they either come in with their phones off or their parents make them turn them off if they start to check them during the visit. That is really different. In the past five to ten years, it’s bugged me so much, parents haven’t said a thing to their kids who are playing a game or texting during our visits. And when a parent tried to tell their kids to put them away, the kids have tantrumed. And now… when parents tells them to put their phone away…. they just do. It’s really a big deal.”

I cannot tell you how happy those conversations… (without one phone interruption)… made me. I have often wondered if we humans are headed to Zombieland (and not the adorable movie) or a future where the cyber world enriches our lives to help us be industrious, innovative, creative, connected, prosperous and (while we’re at it) happier. As one who has been carefully watching smartphone use expand from fun, helpful and connecting, to a time, attention and often moral stealing device, this is the first time I’ve seen a decline in its constant use. I hope, I hope, I hope this is the beginning of a trend.

Elizabeth Clark

About the Author

Elizabeth Clark has been a mental health therapist for teens and families for thirty years.  She is a presenter for CyberStrong, a collaborative community effort, funded by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, to raise awareness and give skills to parents and educators about the influence of technology on our children, families and community.