On being alone but together ...

My father used to tell us that the best day of his life was when they invented the Walkman because from that day on the 4 kids (yes, there were 4 of us) just put on our headphones and bopped away silently in the backseat and through the house instead of talking.  I always found it insulting that he wouldn't enjoy every moment of conversing with his kids.

Now I have kids. Now I get it!

Well, sort of ...

Last year, when my youngest finally moved into the age where he could have a connected device and headphones, I totally got where my dad was coming from.  Suddenly those car trips became peaceful, allowing me to enjoy my retro 80's hair metal without the non-stop complaints.  Allowing me to carry on conversation with my fellow adult passengers without too much self-censoring (my language can get salty when I'm behind the wheel).  Finally after years of catering to the needs of, and conversing with, young kids I was free to generally act like an adult - I had actually forgotten how dull adult life really is, but that's another topic.

When the COVID lockdowns and social distancing started in March and suddenly my family was home all the time I really started to see how different the world has become since my childhood in the 70s and 80s - not better or worse, just different.

In my youth, socializing meant being somewhere with someone.  I was always at a friends house, or out with friends and generally not in the same physical space as my family.  When I was at home, it was usually for a family meal or to sit around the 19-inch TV in the living room to all watch the same show - which was really a choice of one of 3 channels of content.  What these were, I realise in retrospect, was what would become the shared memories and shared experience of the family of my youth.

Now, with a different device in every hand in the house (some of us 2 devices at once), my 2020 family spends more time together in a week than I spent with my 80s family in a year!  But, its a very different experience.  While its great that I always know where my kids are (hey look, he's right there playing Minecraft) it struck me that even after 6 months in the same house, I don't know that we have accumulated many shared experiences.

Last weekend, for example, it struck me as I watched football that my wife was streaming some real crime drama on her tablet while texting with her sister, my son was playing a video game with his headphones on and my daughter was streaming a sitcom on her laptop while simultaneously chatting on her phone with a friend who was watching the same show at the same time.  We were all together, in the same room, but having completely separate experiences.

Now, on the one hand, I love that I get to spend so much time with my kids, watching them grow up, watching the world they exist in - in a by-the-minute level of detail.  I firmly believe that it gives me a greater understanding of the realities that are facing kids - far more so than my parents understood my reality - even though I have no frame of reference for the world they live in (with all the information in Google available everywhere, even by just speaking their questions aloud to Alexa, they barely need to know what a library is ... hint, its where they keep the old paper).  I truly helps me to see the struggles parents must have faced in the past when they didn't even have an observational level of understanding of our life as a youth.  On the other hand, I wonder how - 25 years from now when I am super old and I tell stories to my grand kids about their parents growing-up - stories will even be told?  The traditional "remember the time when we ..." won't really exist in the same way since our together time is not all shared experiences.

I think, now more than ever, as parents and people we need to be sure to take off the headphones, dial into the same content stream - or better yet, turn it off! - and make sure that we are having some in-person shared experiences ... otherwise, how are we going to reminisce by the fireplace when we are old?