Why you should unplug – and unplug your kids, as well

The New York Times has a huge article today on the damage technology is doing to our brains. Yes, there are many good things about technology (I’m blogging, aren’t I?), but the research is conclusive now that multitasking makes us dumber, not smarter, and that the addictive affect of being plugged in is quite real – and damaging to relationships.

Unfortunately, the piece is really long, so many people may not even read it – they’ll be too busy clicking over to another window or checking their Smart Phones (new motto: We make you dumber than you used to be). But here’s the cheat sheet if you can’t spare 15 minutes to read the whole story: Read the first page for the damage issue up close. Scroll halfway down this page to read a graf about multitasking and find a link to a quick game showing you’re not near as good at multitasking as you think you are. Read page three to drill down into the research, and pay close attention (if you can!) to this nugget:

Mr. Ophir is loath to call the cognitive changes bad or good, though the impact on analysis and creativity worries him.

He is not just worried about other people. Shortly after he came to Stanford, a professor thanked him for being the one student in class paying full attention and not using a computer or phone. But he recently began using an iPhone and noticed a change; he felt its pull, even when playing with his daughter.

“The media is changing me,” he said. “I hear this internal ping that says: check e-mail and voice mail.”

“I have to work to suppress it.”

And if you are a parent, give serious thought to if your children really need a cell phone. Parents are supposed to provide materials than enhance education and brain structure, not take from it. The developing brain needs to be trained to think deeply and creatively, not run like Pavlov’s dogs to the nearest stimulus – which is exactly what cell phones and text messaging train brains to do. From the Times piece:

Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses.

No child under driving age needs a cell phone. There is argument that cell phones are necessary for new drivers in case they get in a wreck and they are far from a pay phone. (There’s also the argument that cell phones in cars with teens increase accidents). But prior to 16, there’s no good argument – safety or otherwise – for giving a kid a cell phone. It is little more than convenience for parents, giving them the ability to track their children/check on them 24/7. How did parents do that before the advent of cell phones and other technology? Oh, yeah, they sat down at dinner and had actual conversations with their kids. We can do it again, people. Our brains may depend on it.

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4 thoughts on “Why you should unplug – and unplug your kids, as well

  1. Sorry, I don’t buy your statement that parents shouldn’t consider giving their children under the age of 16 a basic method of communication to keep in contact with them. Yes, it IS more convinient to be able to contact your child via a cell phone to check in with them. However, the fallacy in your argument is that the convinience of a cell phone to check in on your kids somehow supplants “real” communication between a parent and child. If a parent is having problems communicating with their children it isn’t the fault of a piece of technology that actually ENABLES people to be in communication with each other, regardless of what that communication entails. Secondly, I heartliy support the safety arguement. If I had my child abused, attacked, or abuducted I would damn well be wanting them to attempt to utilize their cell to contact their mother and father who through either them, or the ability to track the cell phone itself, could help avert their death or kidnapping.

  2. When I was 12, my younger sister was nearly abducted from right next to me by a group of three adults in a vehicle. The next day, we were both given cell phones. I bet you would do the same even if it went against the liberal trash that is the New York Times.

  3. Dear Anon:
    That is a horrible story and I’m sorry for both you and your sister. Something similar happened to me when I was a child, but I was in a group of kids and we worked together to get away – and ran straight to a house for a safe adult. But that was 30 years ago when people were home during the day. That’s not the case so much anymore, and there are cases where cell phones are life-savers. The article inthe Times was a news piece, simply reporting on the research re: technology and the brain, so it is neither liberal nor conservative, and I think the research shows that what is happening is that young children given cell phones are unable to just use them for safety – they become, as we all apparently are at risk of becoming, addicted to them. Any parent who has had to pay a bill for more than 3,000 texts a month could attest to the addictive nature of it. And, as many teachers will tell you, they are a constant distraction in the classroom, taking away from needed learning time. People should have them for safety – but they need also be aware of the obvious risks to safety (driving while talking/texting) and the research on the effect on brains/learning.

  4. I agree, Renee.  There is always a cost/downside to these technologies and they always develop a lot faster than our ability to integrate them into our lives without negative change occurring. 
    If memory serves, so many of these new technologies have been offered as a way to make our lives easier and less stressful.  I do not see this happening.  Mostly, they add to an already overwhelming burden and are used by employers to “increase productivity”, i.e. get more work out of you for the same or less pay.

    Start by killing your TV.  Everything will be OK after the first week.  In fact, it will be much better.

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