Is too much technology bad for you?

Congratulations on being born! Welcome to the world! Here’s an iPad!

When I was a lad there were fields as far as they eye could see, and I had as much Lego as I could eat. We had a VHS video recorder, with a remote control on a cable. We had a steam-powered microwave, and a  Commadore Vic 20 (what passed for a home computer in those days) that didn’t do much apart from send blocks of colour around the screen and make beep beep noises. Oh, and it also played Snakebite and Blue Meanies. Mostly I played on my bike, built dens with my chums, played cricket and football, and did a hundred other things I consider to be wholesome and fun.

The other day I read an article on the Guardian about young kids, babies really, who were mucking about with iPads. It said a survey found that kids aged between 2 and 5 knew more about computer games and technology than riding a bike or swimming. It also says that preschool kids know how to use a smart phone before they can tie their shoelaces.

It seems that technology is so embedded in our daily lives that every new generation is learning that gadgets are very important to them. They see their parents using smart phones, internet, tablet PC’s, internet TV and fridges that talk to them. Technology is cheap and disposable so there can be an LCD TV in every room and even in the head rests of their family car. Kids aren’t taught about technology so much as they absorb what’s around them.

Mr. Google – Your kids new teacher.

I’m not so old that I can’t or won’t accept any new bit of technology. But I wonder about the effects that our technological world has on fresh young minds. Laptops in schools and interactive white boards make teaching easier, but are they really necessary? At what point does the actual subject being taught become hidden behind the method of delivery? Surely a school kid can get the same from a book than screen?

If a pupil wants to know more they ask the teacher, right? Um, these days…I’d say no because they can just ask the real teacher, Google. And besides if they did ask their teacher will the teacher be able to answer? Or answer quicker or better than Google? Say in a hundred years time will teachers know what the answer is or know how to find the answer? There is a big difference. And will it matter?

John Bishop, a very funny stand up comedian was talking about his kids and one who asked for a mobile phone. Bishop laughed and asked what for? You can barely string a sentence together, who are you going to talk to? You’ve got nothing to say. His kid said he wanted to text his mates. The audience laughed. But sadly that’s the truth. Kids don’t want to be left out. All their mates have a phone. They spend all day together and when they get home they want to carry on chatting about absolutely nothing.

Here’s what I think a pair of 7 years old kids might chat about via text messaging.

WOT U DOIN?

NUFFIN. U?

WATCHIN SCOOBY DOO.

SAME. C U TOMOZ?

YEAH.

KEWL.

What the hell is the point of that? I understand a parents need (or fear driven by a hysterical society) to arm their kids with mobile phones in case anything bad happens to them. And when a parent says those words we all know what they mean. If their kid gets snatched while out somewhere does the parent honestly think the kid will be able to make a quick phone call? No. But it’s that feeling of making every effort their pride and joy is safe with a bit of technology in their pocket.

Isn’t this over saturation?

In our house we sit down for an evening meal together. We chat about our day, discuss stuff, laugh, argue, plan, dream and scheme. You know? Normal family stuff. In a world that revolves around one screen or another, this is the only slice of quality time we have, around 1-2 hours a day. And I’m willing to bet it’s considerably less in some households.

I have a smart phone. I keep it in my pocket. It does all sorts of stuff and I make full use of it. But there’s a time and a place for it. Our youngest has a Blackberry and it makes a minimum of a dozen appearances at the evening meal, usually more. I insist she keeps it out of sight.

Meal time is face time.

But how can you stop a teenager from checking her Facebook updates? I’ve tried. Believe me. How can anyone compete with a hundred or so mates all beeping away on her BBM? And then when dinner is finished she’s on her laptop or watching something recorded on TV. When she’s on the bus she’s on Facebook or BBM. The only time when she’s not actually looking at a screen is when she’s asleep.

It’s the same with most teenagers. They have this desire to be in contact with everyone all the time. Heaven forbid if they miss an LOL or an exciting development like: LIZ PULLED GREG LAST NITE!! That alone must prompt a flurry of texts or status updates and comments.

Is this really the future?

Imagine your new-born baby girl has just entered the world. We’ll call her Jane. The world is a mass of colours and sounds for now. But over time she will recognise certain regularities, feeding time, nappy time, sleepy time…Mum and Dad with something stuck against their faces. After a few years Jane will understand what a smart phone does. She may even get to play on an iPad, nothing bizarre about that right? She uses one of many apps designed for kids, finger painting, match the cow’s head to its body…no, a pig doesn’t have a horses head silly, try again!

And so she’s encouraged to use technology. The babysitter is always there, and I mean the TV. When Jane is 3 and can put a DVD into the player, turn on the TV and watch her Disney movie. Soon she’ll be at school where she’ll stare at the interactive white board and learn how to spell and add up on a laptop screen.

At some point in Primary School or thereabouts Jane will want a phone. She see’s other kids with them. She wants to send texts to her friends. Mum and Dad are a bit concerned but hey, the world is alive with technology so it can only be a good thing, right? Her parents get a GPS tracker apps to put on Jane’s phone so they can know where she is at all times, just in case, you know.

When I was a lad…

(On a side note, I’m pretty sure my Dad had a good idea where I was when not at home, but he didn’t follow me everywhere just to make sure the-man-in-the-van didn’t grab me. Yeah, yeah, I know, the world is different now, but not that different. The only thing that’s changed is that we have the technology to hear about the bad things quicker and in more detail than ever before. The bad guys have always been there.)

Back to Jane.

By the time Jane reaches High School age, she will likely know how to use a PC quite efficiently, she can do all sorts of stuff very fast, scary fast. She’ll use the PC at home but soon enough she’ll want a laptop of her own. Sure, why not? Then she can do her homework in her bedroom and not hog the PC downstairs. Her parents may even put parental controls on Jane’s laptop but it won’t really help that much. Most parents don’t know how they work anyway. And even if they did some kid at school will show Jane how to remove them.

At school the teachers teach the most important lesson of all – Copy and Paste.

“Your homework for next lesson is to find out about Charles Dickens. I want 500 words about his life.”

Jane goes home and whilst chatting on Facebook, downloading music and taking duck face photos of herself, she does an internet search for Charles Dickens. After using the internet for most her young life she’s learnt how to scan for key words instead of actually reading the content. Jane copies and pastes stuff from Wikipedia, in between posting comments on Facebook, Twitter and BBM. She adds a few of her own words here and there, makes it look vaguely presentable then prints it out.

It takes less than an hour.

She learns nothing.

Okay, not all teenagers are like this but come on, this happens more than not!

And I’m willing to bet that a lot of teachers don’t read every word from every bit of homework because they know it’s been copied and pasted. The homework has ceased to become a learning tool and more about whether the pupil can source information effectively.

Technology beats Mum and Dad.

Jane is now a fully fledged member of the Moody Teenager Crew. She spends a lot of time in front of one screen or another, sometimes multiple screens at the same time. TV, laptop, phone, tablet. You name it. Technology teaches anything she wants to know. Jane Doesn’t need to ask how stuff works or where babies come from because the internet can tell her everything. Jane is bombarded with everything her parents never had.

  • YouTube videos teach her about bullying, how to cheat, lie, smoke, set fire to stuff, get free music tracks, travel the world as a student and also let a million singers influence Jane with outrageous music videos – Oh Rihanna wears those clothes so I guess I can too.
  • Facebook lets her share whatever she wants whenever and wherever she wants. No topic is taboo. Jane learns that bullying isn’t just in the school yard.
  • Sex advice websites tell Jane everything she wants to know without having to ask her parents or her teacher. Marvellous.
  • The internet teaches Jane the importance of not working hard. She is brain washed with the “I deserve this because…” ethos and the idea that she can have whatever she wants without needing to work for it. Instant gratification is at the heart of technology.

Since anyone can say anything, Jane is influenced by more information than the generation before her. Her parents are shocked by her mood swings, her weird attitude toward sex, drugs, racism, politics, money and debt. She wants a tattoo of little stars on her back. In fact her Mum finds out she’s already had this done, months ago. “Because everyone else does it, Mum, what’s the big deal?” And then her parents discover their daughter smokes pot now and then. “OMG! Everyone else has a few puffs now and then. It’s not hurting anyone.”

Her parents are stunned. Where did all this come from? Why do we have an argument every day? Surely we, her parents, were never this bad, were we?

Experts will say “probably” but it seems that our children are being bombarded with too much information too fast.

By the way, Jane isn’t unhappy, she’s a normal healthy young lady. She simply has a different outlook than her parents, like their parents did before them and so on. This isn’t about happy and unhappy, but about over dependence on technology and the evil screen that’s more like a drug than a supposed aid to life.

Is it fair to say the good points out weigh the bad?

So what if the next generation is surrounded by technology? Does it really matter if this is becoming the norm rather than the exception? Technology helps us in so many ways except one.

Technology can help bring us together.

Except it doesn’t always work like that.

It can isolate us from the world, the real world around us. Young kids grow up with screens in front of them. They are learning that in order to interact with someone it’s easier to do it through technology, via a screen. I’m sure this isn’t healthy.

A friend recently bought a new car. I heard about it through a status update on his daughter’s Facebook page. When I mentioned it to him he rolled his eyes. He’d had his new car less than a day and everyone knew about before he’d had time to tell anyone.

He said he doesn’t know why he’s got a Facebook page. He certainly never updates it and if he wants to contact someone, he uses a phone and that thing called a voice, or he travels to see them, in person, face to face.

And that made me think. With all the advances in technology are we as a species going to lose the ability to interact with one another physically because we spend so much time plugged into one screen or another?

It might seem hypocritical that I’m ranting about screens when I’m using one to communicate my thoughts to you, dear blog reader, but I know I can turn my PC off and read a book, or go for a walk or play with my dogs. I know I can do these things, and more, without the habit of checking my emails, or updates, or BBM as I do them. The plus side is that I can write this and Granny1947, who lives in South Africa can read it instantly. Great blog by the way!

My point here is that when the lights go out and they don’t come back on, I know I can survive without a mobile device or a screen. I’m pretty certain that in the future the same cannot be said of the next generation who are plugged into the network and hooked like addicts.

And that’s the crux isn’t it? Habit.

Each new generation will grow up addicted to technology, never questioning whether they need or want it. It’s simply there, like air.

And isn’t that just a little bit sad?

Maybe along with teaching our kids how to throw a ball, read, write, spell, say sorry, please, thank you and tie their shoelaces, we should educate them in how to use technology sparingly. We should teach every new generation that technology is there when we want it and it shouldn’t be something we need all the time.

No one needs to update everyone with every last little thought they have. We have the ability to take every scrap of who we are and give it away to everyone else on the planet. Nothing is sacred. It feels like we are losing our identities. Or maybe swapping one for another. I’m not sure which is worse.

Technology should be used when needed.

We shouldn’t be slaves to it.

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14 thoughts on “Is too much technology bad for you?

  1. Hi Dave,
    I read an interesting article which basically said children who over use technology their brains don’t develop in the same way as those who don’t.
    I recently lost internet for a week. First 72hrs was crawling up the walls after that I got a life!

    I banned phones at the dinner table – end of – no debate, nada!
    Kids in our neighbourhood were scared of me, my boys told them I was a right ogre 🙂

    PiP

    • It’s like withdrawal symptoms and when experienced by adults, who remember a time before the information super suckway, we quickly realise it’s not that a big deal and we can cope without internet.

      When I ask for no phones at the dinner table I get odd looks that say: “What’s he talking about, this crazy guy? I’m only checking my emails, sheesh.”

      Ah, but while you’re checking your emails you’re missing out on the face to face chat around the table. I cringe whenever someone says “Sorry, say that again, I was…um…distracted.”

      No, you were being rude. I will smash your phone with a big hammer next time. I don’t think you’re an ogre, I wish I had that power to remove technology from the evening meal too!

    • I have a feeling that all the young uns who bring their phones to the table, tablets, netbooks, whatever, will one day tell their kids they can’t use their phones at their evening meal.

      I think it has a lot to do with age but in a way that comes around to bite the young kids on the botty later in life. Every now and then I’ll say something and my little inner voice will tell me: “Oh dear, my Dad used to say that to me when I was little.”

      Like so many teenagers, I once thought I was cool and in with the latest fashions, unlike my parents, and I’d never by like them. Uh-uh. No way. And yet as you get older your priorities change, and I can now say I’m glad I’m not a teenager. I’m happy with the age I am right now!

  2. Very thought provoking post, Dave. I don’t have teenagers in my life so I can’t relate to that, but yes, I spend a lot of time on my computer. I was the last one to have one in my family, as well as the latest cell phone technology, but now I wonder how I ever lived without my laptop. I have my Kindle on it, I blog on it, I process my photographs on it, I stay in touch with friends via Skype and e-mail and manage my financial affairs and subscriptions online.

    I used to be glued to my phone with Facebook. But when I came to the US my fancy phone was VERY expensive with roaming services and so it had to stop. At first I thought I was going to die, but now I wonder what the heck the big deal was. But my laptop… that still features quite big.

    Balance is important though. I try to take a day maybe once a week and see all my friends face to face for a meal, or a visit or coffee and just talk. The personal interaction is so important, and yes, it is concerning that the new generations don’t know what used to be; they just know what is. That is their ‘normal’. Do kids nowadays still learn to write with pen and paper or do they learn to type instead? Absolutely, what will people in future generations look like and what will they pass down to their children, because as things become more diluted, less and less of what we know as wholesome and healthy is passed down, and you can’t pass on what you don’t have.

    Is it good or bad? Hmm… one one hand – if you want to stay abreast with modern days and selling your product or service, or spreading your message – people often choose to embrace the latest and greatest, which makes a lot of sense – business sense, but in doing that are we effectively letting go of what we value as there is less and less “use” for it in the world? This could turn into a humongous discussion! ha-ha. Like I said, very thought provoking indeed.

    • Excellent comments indeed! I recently read that Tesco are removing a lot of their self service checkouts because customers don’t like them. They like the traditional checkout operator they can chat with. And that story made me smile.

      I like how you say you can’t pass on what you don’t have. What a scary thought that is. I’m a fan of technology but there’s too much of it. I use a PC every day, at work and at home. But I know for a fact that when I take my two weeks in the sun, I’ll not be taking a laptop with me. I don’t want emails while I’m laying on a beach and I won’t care who’s doing what on Facebook. That’s my idea of heaven. Now and then I yearn for a life that’s like that all the time.

  3. damn.
    sigh.
    fucking a.
    this is so upsetting.
    and its something Ive been thinking about since I cant live without my blackberry.
    hmmm, this has me thinking.

    • I don’t give it a lot of thought all the time. Like most other people I just see technology as part of the fabric of my life. It’s there like a sofa or trees or my feet. But now and then it strikes me how we’re all addicted to technology whether we want to be or not.

      There’s no escape. Right?

  4. Damn right Dave!
    And with all this technology, I fear that our kids are going to lose the art of hand writing because everything can be copied, pasted and printed off – even at school! What are they learning? Very sad.
    The days of the family sitting round the dinner table actually talking to each other are all but disappearing .
    Technology is wonderful, and it has it’s place, but try telling that to young kids today.

    • It’s my hope that the kids today will still echo our parents, and our own set of morals and beliefs. When they sit at the table with their kids, they’ll want quality time because 30 mins a day just isn’t enough. But then I wonder how far in the future will technology be so embedded in our lives that we won’t be able to see it.

  5. We all have a deep desire to connect. We simply now have an obscene amount of options available to do it round the clock. Ours are 2, 5, 15 and 17 and all technology proficient. I insist on downing tech tools after a 2 hour period and getting back into the playdough. Generally not well received!

    • Oh. Playdough. I have a tub of the blue stuff in my drawer! I tend to have a good moulding session a few times a week. That’s stress relief right there! Good for you for being so bold. You get a Gold Star!

  6. I am a strong believer that technology not only makes the learning process much more fun, but it also creates allows a more hands-on experience for kids! If you are interested in other educational products for kids, I would check out our educational apps! 🙂

    Best Regards
    Wombi

  7. Pingback: The Impact of Technology | Technology & Communication in English

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