I don’t remember anyone ever using the word “authentic” back in the 1990s. Now, we hear about being authentic in how we lead, traveling to experience the authentic, and even how to cook authentic pasta. The push towards greater automation and artificial intelligence possibly propels us further toward falsity and maybe has us yearning for authenticity even more.
Brené Brown, researcher and storyteller says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” Maybe this infers a need to increase human levels of consciousness, from an approach of a concentric circle, starting with oneself. The choice to take a step back and authentically “audit” our lives. Releasing ourselves from the stranglehold of technology is a fantastic starting point. Thankfully, we are already beginning to see a march toward an inevitable tipping point. An evolution of sorts, where an invitation to remove the tethering to a phone, computer, tablet, or wearables, is accepted with greater willingness and alacrity.
First, rewind. In the summer of 2017, I was leading a two-week student expedition in Iceland. As a part of orientation, we proposed a tech fast for a day. “Give yourself a break. A chance to fully be present. Instead of rushing to take a photo or send a Snapchat (mind you, this was a year before TikTok merged with Musical.ly and became available in the U.S.).” To see 15 pairs of teenage eyes bulging and turned upwards in disbelief is a site to see. It was further compounded by one bold student’s “authentic” quip, “Why?” With an added emphasis on fully drawing out the “iiiiiiiii.” Needless to say, it was a tough sale.
Not Entirely Connected
Fast forward six years and the expectation on these same expeditions is a tech-free first seven days. Further, it is something students and families agree to. The statement being made is one centering on being intentional about technology, so students can fully engage in the experience, build a stronger sense of community in their group, and strengthen skills in creating interpersonal relationships. All are critical to an increasing need for connection. The irony is that in a hyper-connected world, digitally, there are many signs on the wall that we are feeling less sense of human connection. Of belonging.
Senior writer of the New York Times, David Leonhardt, imparts how academic research provides evidence for how digital technology is leading to less happiness, especially for teenagers. Yet, despite the magnitude of findings, “Sometimes, the totality of the evidence is stronger than the average correlation across a group of artificial experiments.”
To Do What is Right by Children
So, what might schools and parents do? Instead of what appears a happenstance default to, if a phone can be afforded, and a child wants it, put it in their hands. Critical is for adults to step up. To educate themselves on the advantages and pitfalls of a world being overrun by technology. A world where “typical” American teens supposedly spend half their waking hours on smartphones. A component of stepping up is taking back ownership of the decision-making process. This need not be contested by children as more often than not, it is the adult responsible for shelling out the hundreds of dollars for the device(s) and monthly internet charges. In essence, “children’s phones” are simply on loan. So, it is the adult who rightly can, and arguably should, make such decisions as how much screen time is “right.” When Lisa Damour, psychologist and author, began to implement tech use in her home, the response of her children mirrored a sentiment I recently witnessed on recent outdoor outings with teens. Not only did they not put up a fight but the response resembled a sense of relief. Damour elaborated how “it did wonders for our family to limit screen time. They are coming back to life. They are more social. They talk instead of shrug and when they get home from school they don’t run up the stairs and close themselves in their rooms. They seem happier and aren’t in such a rush to get back to their phones…and my thirteen and fourteen-year-olds actually went outside. To play. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.”
Similar results were found at Chatelech Secondary School in British Columbia after a 5- month revamping of cell phone use at school, “We are seeing improved mental health, we’re seeing decreased bullying, we’re seeing more engagement in class, we’re seeing more social interaction, kids are playing again instead of being on their phones and we’re seeing increased academic success.” The response when the policy was introduced was also similar. Some students were angry and upset, while others, “were extremely relieved.”
Awakening to What Truly is Authentic
If these examples are not enough to build credence, it may prove beneficial to examine the paradox happening in Silicon Valley where for the last few years, more than a handful of billionaires have said no to screen time for children. A few quotes to ponder include the likes of Melinda Gates and Steve Jobs.
“Phones and apps aren’t good or bad by themselves, but for adolescents who don’t yet have the emotional tools to navigate life’s complications and confusions, they can exacerbate the difficulties of growing up: learning how to be kind, coping with feelings of exclusion, taking advantage of freedom while exercising self-control.” ~Melinda Gates
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” ~Steve Jobs
The dawning days are behind us. We need not be confused by the likes of ChatGPT and popular media proposing all things artificial intelligence. Rather, there is an awakening, a return to authenticity. A world of purpose. Of balance and intention. A world of far greater connection. Connected with our surroundings, with each other, and to ourselves. Free from the complexities that technology often presents. Lives of “authenticity.”