Title: The End Of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection
Author: Michael Harris
In the first chapter of this book, author Michael Harris, an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed digital immigrant, points out to his readers that anyone born before 1985 has the gift of living adulthood with and without the Internet. He describes this early 80’s generation as “digital immigrants” (pg 15) who hold an important role as the last people in history to know life before the Internet, and therefore understand the loss and gain of a world immersed in the digital age.
The author is very forthcoming that this book isn’t meant to be a “prescription” with “10 easy steps to living a healthy digital life.” (pg 208) It is more of a meditation of both life before and after the Internet, and the very real consequences that come from each of us literally having the Internet in the palms of our hands. Moreover, it calls into question what it means for future generations to be heading toward an age where nobody will remember life before the Internet.
Michael Harris divides up the chapters so that he thoroughly explores internet generated issues such as cyber bullying, the authenticity of information, scientific research regarding children and technology, memory and altered attention span just to name a few. He continually goes back to the idea that in a world of smartphones and constant connection to the Internet, we miss out on important moments throughout the day when we can appreciate silence and be present in our own reality, rather than the constant escape to a virtual one.
Parts I Liked Best:
I really appreciated the chapter in the book entitled Kids These Days, where the author delves into the scientific research and repercussions the Internet is having on our children. Harris quotes a pioneer of neuroplasticity research named Gary Small as saying, “We know that technology is changing our lives. It’s also changing our brains.” (pg 38) Gary goes on to say that, “young brains immersed in a dozen hours of screen time a day, may be more equipped to deal with digital reality than with the decidedly less flashy reality that makes up our dirty, sometimes boring, often quiet material world.” (pg 38) The book explains that experts are taking notice that the Internet is hindering our ability of thinking deeply and there are concerns that young people especially have increasing deficiencies in focusing their attention, being patient and thinking deeply.
The author offers his own real-life experience of his inability to focus as clearly while reading with the alluring distractions of text-messaging, emails and even You-tube. He quotes Douglas Gentile, a professor at Iowa State University who says, “Television and computers are crutches for your attention. And the more time you spend on those crutches, the less able you are to walk by yourself.” (pg 118) (emphasis mine)
This reality is noted by the author who observes two teenage boys on a bus together who text back and forth to each other rather than engage in a conversation face to face. Or in the children who are given smartphones to “babysit” them while parents enjoy an uninterrupted dinner. He expresses a deep concern for the imagination that is lost in children due to the constant stimulation created by electronic devises. Today’s children, simply put, miss out on the art of being bored.
How this book made an impact on my life, especially as a mother:
This book made me think. Obviously the Internet is not all bad and the positive benefits of our digital age are endless, but reading this book has reiterated an intense desire of mine to raise children who are given the chance to imagine. I am SO very guilty of having the TV babysit my toddler while I get something done. I actually don’t think that is a terrible thing…in moderation. It is the fact that I lose track of how much my children are actually being exposed to television when it is on while we drive, on the iPad at the doctor’s office, on my cell phone etc. How easily those things become crutches!
Equally as important, this book put my own constant connectivity into question. On more than one occasion, I have had a child complain about my being on the phone or the computer when where I really needed to be was present. My goal is not to knock social media, but more times than not, there is a feeling of emptiness the looms when I have devoted too much time aimlessly browsing yet another social media outlet.
The point of the book is not to make people feel guilty for taking advantage of the miracle of technology; in fact Harris points out many things that are to be celebrated. Rather it is a call to live life in balance and a reminder to our generation to simply, “look up-even briefly-from our screens…and again take pleasure in absence.” (pg 209)
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