Category Archives: Technology

One Nation Under Screens

It’s no secret technology has completely altered the world in just a few years. Look at the way children grow up. Just a generation ago, kids used to play outside for hours. They rode bikes to their friends’ houses and didn’t come home until after dark. They interacted with their buddies in nature, used their imaginations, played contact sports and ran around. To be sure, that reality hasn’t entirely disappeared, but it has certainly evolved.

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Image Credit: mytoenailcameoff

A recent Kaiser Foundation study found that children use entertainment technology 7.5 hours per day. In addition, 75% of kids have TV’s in their bedrooms and 50 percent of North American homes have the TV on all day. These statistics don’t show the full picture, however. It’s not just television screens. Children tend to be going online at younger and younger ages. A report  released by educational non-profits, Sesame Workshop and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, revealed that 50% of US children between the ages of 6-9 are online daily.

In recent years, considerable emphasis has been placed upon the idea that novel new forms of technology will solve educational problems. Though amazing advances have come from our increasingly interconnected society, a nation of kids glued to their screens is not the ideal solution. What’s needed is a balance between the advantages of copious amounts of information as a desirable tool, and a harmonious integration between nature and the people surrounding us.

Author and child advocacy expert, Richard Louv has spoken out about this issue, going so far as to create a growing body of research on the need for direct exposure to nature in order to better raise physically and mentally healthy adults. His book, Last Child in the Woods, attempts to curb disturbing childhood trends, such as increased obesity, depression, and attention deficit disorders. Louv is just one of many thought-leaders challenging the status quo when it comes to the new reality of the wired generation. Screenagers, a compelling new documentary by filmmaker Delaney Ruston, explores this issue. In her movie, Ruston examines how powerful digital influences, such as social media, internet addiction, video games, and social media can be pervasive in shaping the impressionable minds of teenagers.

What’s most needed in our discussions of this emerging issue is a dispassionate sense of perspective, however. Every age brings its own unique set of improvements, coupled with concerns and challenges. We are fortunate to live in times of immense technological discovery and wonder. The trick is to find the necessary balance between utilizing our great new tools for unprecedented advances while curtailing their adverse effects. The first and necessary step in this process is to create awareness. By recognizing the new state of things we can begin to make positive steps towards living in greater harmony with our screens, the people around us, and the natural world.

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Technology as a Lens

In working with youth, we often have the discussion of what role technology plays in their lives- How much do you use your phone? What games do you play?? Are you on the internet a lot???

Invariably, these questions lead to many “yes” answers and vocal exclamations of the awesome-ness of new technology. The problem with this discussion is that the above questions are not the correct questions to ask youth. Why? Because the fact of the matter is, youth will be using technology much more than any predecessors did, and at what some may claim an alarmingly high rate.

The correct question we need to ask youth is this: How are you using technology? and perhaps most importantly, For what purpose? This frames the issue in a much more personal way- instead of a simple “yes” and “no” format, youth can begin querying with themselves what actual role technology is playing in their lives. If its gaming, then the answer to the above questions could be “for fun”, “to hang out with friends online”, yet a deeper issue could emerge such as “I use my computer to feel connected to the world”. Once the discussion becomes about how we feel, it automatically becomes personal.

A simple way to talk about technology is to discuss it as a “tool” or “lens” – we use technology as a way to understand the world, feel connected, stay in touch, etc., but we acknowledge that technology is not the only way to do these things. When Roots to Branches works with youth during service learning projects or rites of passage groups, we have this discussion early on to discern something we feel is VERY important: technology is not the goal, but a means to achieving the goal. It is the lens we can view the world through, but in itself is NOT the world. As adults we might take this distinction for granted, yet we need to create the understanding in youth today that technology will not solve the worlds problems- it is the people that use technology as a lens; that know how to understand the limits to its use; who can successfully navigate the world with understanding of who they are and how to use the tools around them, without getting lost in the process.

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