Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Her teenage son enters, hefting a dufflebag. 

"Bye, Ma, I'm heading to yeshiva." 

She continues to tap away on her iPhone. 

"Ma, I'm leaving." 

She doesn't look up. 

"Ma? Off to yeshiva." 

"Uh-huh." She can't spare a glance away from the device. Seated at her kitchen table she continues to text, not seeing what I'm seeing.

That hurt boy later mouths off to me at a simcha, and I don't let him get away with it. But I am not surprised. 

As Barbara Fredrickson observes in her article, "Your Phone vs. Your Heart"
Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. 
The irony is that while technology allows unprecedented convenience for connectivity, we are connecting less than ever before (typing "lol" for a re-sent joke does not count as "connecting," by the way).
Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.
How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect. 
When Elizabeth Bennet takes Darcy to task for his ill-manners, he replies stiffly that he doesn't have that ability that others do for easy conversation and association. Elizabeth retorts, following her barely adequate playing of the piano, that her lack is due to insufficient practice. 
Ignoring those who are physically present in consideration for the phantom chirping of a phone is not just bad behavior, but it also reinforces taciturnity.

Following some scientific jargon, Fredrickson explains that being able to relate to others is vital to other factors of bodily health. 
Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.
In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.
Children, young, vibrant, and impressionable, require constant parental attention, nowadays more than ever before. 
Being repeatedly brushed aside for a cold piece of ringing plastic leaves a mark. Not a pleasant one. 
When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.  


daughtersintheparsha said...

Wow. That is really, really unusual, I think. That a woman old enough to have a son going off to yeshiva (let's say, about mid to late 30's) is so "teen-like" that she is more engrossed in her iPhone than her son. Interesting. Not typical of that age group.

On the other hand, there is a woman at the gym (age unknown, younger that me) who spends every class texting the whole time. What on earth she does and who she is texting I have no idea. Wait! Maybe it's This Kid's Mom!!

Princess Lea said...

Very possibly! :)

Sefardi Gal said...

That's very sad, as it is usually the teens of this generation who are too caught up in their technology to notice their parents.
But that line from P&P is one of my favs.
Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favorite fictional characters. Too bad she's not real. :(

Princess Lea said...

Teens only know that which their parents permit, nor do they yet know self control. If their parent pays more attention to the phone than to them, why should they behave any differently?

I think Jane Austen put a lot of herself in Elizabeth. After all, such witty repartee couldn't have been just imagination.