According to a recent study, a third of today’s parents think that playing with their children is boring. So boring, in fact, that many of us are succumbing to technology to occupy our time. The Tumblr Parents on Phones features dozens of moms and dads checking their phone during picnics, school programs – even birthday parties. But perhaps the most disconcerting illustration of our modern day neglect isn’t technology-related at all; it’s a chair.
South Korean designer Jaewook Kim recently created the Abooba Chair: a guilt-free way to supervise your children’s playtime while indulging in your own leisurely activities. Named after the Korean term “piggyback,” the chair has great intentions for facilitating playtime between a child and parent. With a jungle gym-inspired back, a parent can relax and let their energetic toddler climb to their heart’s content – all while checking their latest status updates, news feeds and content streams.
It’s not the chair’s fault (and certainly not the designer’s). Our increasingly digital world is calling for our undivided attention – even at the mercy of our children. And we’re all to blame, aren’t we? Writes clinical psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle in an interview with Washington Post, “These are not people who are dysfunctional, who are out of control, who are addicted – they’ve just kind of let things get away from us. It starts with the reality that people are expected to be online 24-7 – we’re on all the time for our jobs – and it ends in the fantasy of ‘there’s something new just around the corner, waiting in your in box.’ ”
The result: kids are familiarizing themselves with the back of our heads. And according to Patrick Kelly, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, it’s a growing problem. “Being able to look your child in the eye, to reflect what they’re thinking…and to really be there with them in a way you can’t be in a text, is incredibly valuable, because it teaches kids to reflect on their own mental state and shows they’re not alone in the world. Eye contact is the number-one sign that you’re relating to your kid.”
So are we relating to our kids? More than half of the children who participated in a recent study desired more quality time with their parents. And instead of engaging them, we’re simply distracting them with the same tools that are distracting us. According to Mashable, 7 in 10 kids use an iPad or other tablet device at home, the majority of children being under the age of twelve. Of course, removing the distraction of technology from our lives (both our own, and the lives of our children) is completely unrealistic. Yet we can make an effort to set limits and boundaries that will encourage tech-free time. And when the glare of our phones and tablets has dimmed, we can choose to be mindful in the presence of our kids. To be engaging, involved and interested.
Design doesn’t always dictate trends, but it does often respond to them. And in the case of the Abooba Chair, this is only the beginning. Sure, products are designed to make our lives easier, quicker, richer. Yet more recently, we’re snowballing into a somewhat disheartening trend: products that have been created to release the guilt of the society we’ve become.
There’s a book that mocks our inability to unplug. A GPS device to track your child’s activities. And in China, a giant inflatable ball deemed a groundbreaking innovation in “babysitting technology.” Collectively, they’re speaking volumes of today’s culture: we’re inventing technology to increase our addiction to technology.
Popular productivity chief Merlin Mann notes in an interview with NY Mag, “Where you allow your attention to go ultimately says more about you as a human being than anything that you put in your mission statement. It’s an indisputable receipt for your existence.”
It’s a receipt that we have paid, and are still paying, quite a lot for. Yet like the Abooba chair, we have a choice. We can continue to indulge in the fast-paced connectivity (but not connectedness) technology is offering us while ignoring our surroundings. Or we can turn off the phone, turn around and indulge in a rousing game of jungle gym with the kids we love.
Image Credits: Jaewook Kim