I joke about being a Luddite but in reality I love technology. I’m legally blind and computers really do make the difference between freedom and imprisonment for many of us with disabilities. Many technologies are also essential for increasing the ecological sustainability of our lifestyles.
I even love the internet and social media. Social media is reason we have a serious presidential candidate in the United States who discusses issues of interest to people with regular incomes for the first time in my lifetime. The prevalence of social media has opened up opportunities for small businesses, homeschoolers, social justice activists and even organic farmers like never before. If we do ever find a large-scale solution to climate change, I believe it will be spread and activated through social media.
I’m not against technology.
I’m just against kids being connected to some sort of electronic media more than SEVEN hours each day on average. That’s a staggering statistic. It’s often half of all awake time for kids.
Yes, media is immediate, colorful, eye-catching, flexible and dynamic. It gives you the feeling of instant control. Change the channel, skip, scroll down, click a link, friend and unfriend. It’s all right there in a split second. No self-regulation necessary, no self-control required, no need to be flexible yourself and no time to notice slower things.
A terrifying phenomenon is building in this generation--people who don’t know how to deal with non-virtual reality. It isn't just the obvious stuff, like not knowing how to grow food or cook or get around without a map navigation system (although those are significant issues). It’s also the essential ability to observe the world in real time, to connect with one’s self and with the natural environment. It’s the ability to just be without the jitters reminiscent of an addict in need of a fix.
You might say I should just manage my kids’ screen time and rest secure in the knowledge that at least my kids will gain technology skills without becoming addicted. But any of you who have actually tried this will be chuckling.
Easier said than done.
My kids are still in preschool and I am already under fierce pressure to allow them at least several hours of screen time every day. I attended a seminar on bullying prevention because my kids are in a high-risk category for being bullied, and the only concrete bit of advice the anti-bullying “expert” speaking had was: “Be sure to allow your kids to watch the fashionable TV shows and play enough video games, so they'll be up-to-date on what will be discussed at recess.”
My kids report that some of their classmates already have smart phones. In preschool! For my second-grade ESL students, a smart phone is a basic school supply, like they used to have personal pencil sharpeners.
When my kids were toddlers, I eagerly awaited the day when their friends would visit us and they could visit their friends. But now their friends don’t want to visit us because, “the TV isn’t on.” And when I check or even just ask what they are doing at a friend’s house, there is no other activity other than TV, video games or Barbie dolls in front of the TV, in the case of girls. Their reading abilities are scanty for Facebook yet, but that won’t last long.
I’m going to catch some flak for mentioning that some other parents are becoming part of the problem on this one. But the thing is that most of these parents who put the kids in front of the TV or video games will tell you they don’t like to do it. They feel pressured to do it and they are exhausted. They usually insist to themselves that they are doing it "just this once" to save their sanity. Like me, they want their kids to have friends and be happy and this seems to be the price you have to pay.
It’s a spiral of smrak, the term I am coining for the techno-social malaise of today's world, leading to kids spending most of their time in front of screens and having few real-world interests or skills.
I’m not judgmental so much as tearing my own hair out. We need to stand together and stand up for a healthy amount of technology and other diversified activities for kids. We can’t use electronics as a way to avoid discussing life and health with our kids “just this once”--every single day. We must band together as humans of all ages to take back our lives and our minds.
Technology is a wonderful gift. Let’s use it wisely.