Consider this a pre-post. A teaser of sorts. Or a trailer, as they refer to it in the movie biz — though why they continue to call something they show before the movie starts a “trailer” still eludes me.
There’s a bunch of subject-specific stuff zooming around in the old noggin at the moment, but I’m not quite willing to generate a final post on it yet. It’s all still whirling — airborne, malleable, coalescing. I gotta wait for it to stop shifting and for the dust to settle on it for a bit yet.
What’s got me all in a lather? Kids and technology. Or, more specifically, I suppose, kids and their
dependence on addiction to technology.
A couple of weeks ago I caught the tail end of a documentary on PBS that argued that being brought up with a strong connection to nature generally helps kids fare better later in their lives. The underlying theory, of course, is that having a reasonably sustained, direct exposure to the natural world — finding your way amongst the flora and fauna, appreciating the vicissitudes of the weather, learning how many tree trunks you need to nail that 2”x4” to before you can use it to support the floor of your tree-house, etc. — teaches you transferable, real-world, problem-solving-type skills that will be hugely valuable in your future life as an adult.
At this point, not pausing to analyze the premise too critically, I would have to say I’m in general agreement.
I stumbled upon the program when it was nearly over; when the teens in the show — urban and suburban kids who had been brought out to the “wilderness” to experience it first-hand for several weeks for probably the first time in their lives — were playing at ambushing each other with home-made bows and arrows, swimming in the the nearby streams and sitting companionably around the camp fire. Idyllic sylvan frolicking all around. Many of them were a little homesick, and a few of them generally thought the whole exercise was “stupid” and sorely missed the conveniences of their “real” lives, but these certainly aren’t foreign emotions to any kid who has ever left home for summer camp.
It was when the kids returned to the bosom of their families, however, that things started to go south for me. Upon returning home, one of the remaining challenges the filmmakers wanted the group to undertake was a “technology fast,” to see how long they could fare without jumping right back on the “virtual” bandwagon where they had left off. It was voluntary, so some agreed to go ahead with it and some didn’t. Those who declined to participate in the fast walked in the door of their homes and were soon once more stationary in front of one type of screen or another, once more cresting the horizons of their digital frontiers.
Of those who agreed to participate in the fast I’m not sure that anyone lasted more than a day (maybe two days, tops) without being overwhelmed by their addiction and having to return to their smart phones and computers in fairly short order. And it was one young girl’s “video diary,” after only a single day back in the “world,” that ultimately sent me reeling. This poor young thing, who, ironically, was one of the kids who actually seemed to have some fun out in the woods, was nearly trembling with withdrawal symptoms as she spoke into the camera about how she absolutely had to get back to her cell phone. That she just couldn’t hold out any longer. My heart nearly broke. This child — our children — have become literal technology junkies.
I remember experiencing a similar feeling of desperation about six months ago after stumbling upon a blog in which a mother was describing how upset she was at having to develop an arsenal of new strategies to talk with her young daughter about many of the things the daughter was seeing other girls post on Facebook relating to “cutting” themselves. I think the daughter was 10- or 11-years old. I can’t for the life of me remember what series of random clicks would have ever brought me to such a web page to begin with, but what I can remember thinking about at that point was what kind of parents would let their child have their own Facebook accounts at that age in the first place? Hello?
But here’s where it gets complicated. I’m a huge fan of technology — always have been. I love gadgets and gaming and blogging and essentially having the entire world available to me at my fingertips via the internet (though I hate texting and despise Facebook, but that’s probably fodder for a whole ‘nother blog). I couldn’t earn my daily bread without a computer and a cell phone (though millions of architects have in the past!) and, truth be told, I also frequently turn to technology to soothe my weary soul via streaming entertainment in some form or another.
But when it comes right down to it, my relationship with technology is probably very similar to my relationship with, say, booze. Like most folks, I enjoy a drink every now and then — maybe even several, given the right occasion and venue — but no one I know, by any stretch of the imagination, could ever call me an alcoholic. I’m an adult. I know when enough is enough. On the other hand, I think it’s damn near impossible these days to find a kid who’s not a “technoholic,” who even begins to comprehend what “enough” means.
Where I live the drinking age is 19-years old, and, for the most part, this limitation seems to do a reasonable job of preventing those who are still honing their emerging decision making skills from becoming mindless drunkards. Maybe we need something similar where technology is concerned. Maybe we need to establish an age of “digital” majority. All things being equal, maybe we’d be better off helping our kids learn to experience, appreciate and contend with real life before letting them escape down the rabbit hole of virtual life.
I dunno. Like I said at the start of this post, I got this issue stuck in my head and I’m simply trying to think / write my way through it. What I do know, however, is that pretty soon my son’s probably going to be the only teenager in junior high school without a cell phone and that any minute now my in box is probably going to start filling up with hate mail from every kid on the internet who thinks a digital age of majority is probably the worst idea since some sadistic old fart invented school in the first place.
Am I serious? I’m not sure yet. Is such an approach simply little more than a case of throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater? Might I actually be a Luddite in techie’s clothing? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.
Feel free to weigh in.