Digital Abandonment

Last year a Hillcrest staff member attended the Consumer Electronics Conference (CES). At the conference, he attended a private meeting with an emerging technology company that is working with voice recognition. The company is already rolling out their technology in automobiles like Honda and Ford. 

During a demonstration, the staff member sat in amazement as the engineer synced his voice to his phone and then asked another attendee to sync his voice to another device. As the two commanded their devices, using voice recognition software on a dashboard display found in many new cars, the engineer said they are very close to being able to sync four different voices to four different devices.

The demonstration cast a practical picture where a family of four traveling to a sporting event used their wifi enabled car to communicate. As the family traveled down the road, the mother awoke her device with a simple phrase, and asked for directions. The father, having no need for directions, awoke his device simultaneously, speaking a text message to send to a family who is meeting them at the game. The two children, in the back seat, used the car's wifi capability as they awoke their devices with a simple voice prompt. In the imaginary situation, the kids posted status updates with hashtags, carrying on multiple conversations without having to take their eyes off the city-scape near the stadium.

When the staff member reflected in his journal that night, his thoughts drifted to a car of people communicating to the world, without even saying a word to some of the most important people in the world, their family.

This imagery stirs many emotions. Some are exciting. The ability for me to travel hours in a vehicle, speaking as I would to an assistant, accomplishing tasks without fearing my voice unrecognizable from a car stereo is enticing. Some emotions are scary. To think that I could travel hours in a vehicle with my family, talking the entire time, but never conversing with them.

Negative parts of the fictional family in their fabricated scenario are being felt by students around the world. More and more I find students digitally abandoned. Whether students are abandoned in things like education, being handed an Ipad and told to interact with knowledge via the screen rather than human interaction, or students arrive home from sports practice to find a family enamored with a glowing rectangle, the impact of being digitally abandoned greatly shapes how students view relationships, learning, and their own character. 

We believe we are on the cusp of understanding the impact digital abandonment has on students. Sherry Turkle is one of our favorite researchers in this field. Her transition from a technology cheerleader to a prophet of digital impact has caused many in the technology community pause. I encourage you to watch her TedTalk from two years ago. Watch the video with your family, and reassess your digital practices in your home. You may, like my family, be fostering a home of digital abandonment, and not even know it.

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