Tweets, Texts and Facebook Cost Young People True Friendships, Says Author
"And when he opened the eighth seal, I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with 10 horns and seven heads, with 10 diadems upon its horns, and it was texting its friends and updating its Facebook page when it could have been having a REAL conversation."
-- The Book of Revelations (slightly updated)
Are these the end times?
Well, author Jeanne Martinet isn't exactly saying that. Yet she sees dark and forboding portents in the layers of distance we put between ourselves with all of our cell phones, computers and other gizmos and gadgets.
She particularly worries about kids growing up with all this stuff.
Her new book, "Life is Friends: A Complete Guide to the Lost Art of Connecting in Person," discusses the importance of face-to-face communication in a world where friendship and human interaction are reduced to tweets, text messages and Facebook posts.
"The longer we live with sound-bite social lives, the more we're going to sacrifice any sense of intimacy," she tells ParentDish.
Martinet finds that prospect horrifying. She loves talking to people. Her previous book, "The Art of Mingling," provided a comprehensive guide for chatting people up and cemented her reputation as Miss Mingle.
That's the nickname she takes on a blog she uses to dispense advice and observations on mingling. Not that she likes all this cyber-nonsense.
"I will do it, but I don't do it happily," she says.
Although "Life is Friends" is not geared toward kids, its message is relevant to young people. Researchers for the Nielsen Company learned that American teenagers send an average of 10 text messages per hour.
And a study by researchers at the Sleep Disorders Center at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., found that many kids have trouble sleeping because they spend too much time on their cell phones.
At least grownups can remember a world before Twitter and text messages, Martinet tells ParentDish. Kids growing up now take for granted technology that separates them from other human beings.
She doesn't exactly know what to do about it either. "It's an almost impossible task," she says. "It's like a crack habit, like having a tube in their mouths."
Martinet notes that activities that use to bring people together -- simple things like bowling and attending church groups -- are declining. "Those are the things that people traditionally use to come together as a community," she says.
All this technology enables us to stay in contact with a lot more people, she adds, but the price is a lot less intimacy.
"It's going to have a negative effect on our life as a society in general," Martinet says.
Although at a loss for a cure, Martinet nonetheless says there are some things parents can do to disconnect kids from the electronic world and plug them back into reality.
One is banning cell phones and other electronic devices at the dinner table.
Another possibility is getting kids involved in groups where they actually have to look other people in the eye.
Parents can help out by inviting other kids to the house, she says. Perhaps parents could host a party where they teach kids to play poker, she adds. Poker has that grownup mystique that just might lure kids in.
Something needs to be done, says Martinet. As a society, we are losing the art of interacting with other people. "All of our social structures are breaking down," she says.
"A lot of kids don't even know how to wink unless it's on Facebook," she says. "They don't literally, physically know how to wink. It's incredible."
For her own part, Martinet has been dragged (with a little kicking and screaming en route) into the 21st century. She has her blog as well as a website and Facebook page. A presence in cyberspace is essential for a writer, she says.
Nonetheless, she has boundaries. Her Facebook page is only for promoting herself as a writer. There are no personal details. "My intimate self is not available online," she says.
Instead, Martinet is forever attending parties, mixing and mingling. She says she has hundreds of friends she could call and who would recognize her instantly by her "hello."
The born extrovert is anything but the reclusive author. "My writing was born out of being an extrovert," she says. "I'm a terrible person to be living the life of a writer."
She maintains this incredibly active social life by staying off the computer and getting out in the world. She wishes more people -- especially young people -- would do the same.
""Real intimacy cannot be achieved via iPhone," she says.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.