A couple of weeks ago, we picked up two of our grandkids in St. Louis to spend the night. The oldest asked to sit in the front, a perk now that she’s nearly 11. I didn’t mind because I could sit in the back with her younger sister and read with her on the way home.

This particular evening, the 11-year-old immediately pulled out her iPod to play a game, a device she can call and text with too. She often sends me messages, which I love. Technology is such a double-edged sword. It allows us to stay in touch, yet it takes us out of touch with those we care about too.

While I didn’t want to appear cranky or embarrass our granddaughter, I did ask her to put the iPod away. She didn’t bat an eye. Later I found out she wasn’t supposed to have brought it along. I appreciate the fact that our daughters have talked to the kids about when it’s appropriate to use their devices. And I know using screens is a continuing battle, one I wage myself.

Our youngest daughter, who has no children, has a job as a social media expert, requiring that she be online with Twitter, Facebook and other sites. As tuned-in as she has to be, Katie is respectful of not misusing social media. We were discussing Facebook the other evening and how differing political opinions are dividing users.

“Yet I’m drawn to Facebook,” I told Kate. Why? What is it about the site that’s so alluring, taking me away from my primary love of books to flip through photos of people I often never see and those I barely know?

Technology allows people to re-establish connections, but it takes willpower not to get lost in a pit, where time evaporates as we whirl through posts on our smartphones, tablets, computers and text away instead of phoning or having a visit over coffee.

Help Offered Here

Author Sherry Turkle’s book, “Reclaiming Conversation, the Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” addresses how our personal connections are suffering because of technology. I heard her speak in St. Louis a few months ago. One of the points Turkle made concerned cellphones — she said research has shown that simply having a cellphone out on a table impacts conversation.

“Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood,” Turkle writes.

When she was gathering research for her book, Turkle invited people to offer examples of their experiences with technology. She related the story of a dad whose children were separated in age by a few years. He said when his first was born he used to talk and play with the child while the youngster was taking a bath, but when his second came along he realized he was spending time on his cellphone, rather than talking with the child in the bathtub.

We Can Change

Cellphones are here to stay, as is the Internet, Turkle said — yet we don’t know the outcome of children trying to speak to parents when their attention is directed to a little handheld gizmo or the lasting impact these attention-grabbing devices will have on us.

Turkle made a good point about reading on devices as well. Readers grow readers, but when an adult is reading on a device a child doesn’t know if the adult is reading, playing a game or is on Facebook, so modeling a worthwhile activity you want children to adopt is often misinterpreted.

All is not lost, however, as Turkle states in her book. She remains optimistic because awareness makes change possible. “Once aware, we can begin to rethink our practices. When we do, conversation is there to reclaim.”

Here’s hoping your holidays are filled with more face-to-face time than time spent on Facebook, screens and cellphones. It’s a huge gift to give our family members and friends.