A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
"Technology is eradicating the wisdom of antiquity and slowly destroying our kids' ability to think".
Wow - what kind of reactionary Luddite crawled out from under a rock and gave voice to that mouthful? Was it a joint communique issued by the firm of Belling, Beck and Limbaugh?
No - they are the words of a noted anthropologist, writer, and educator that I had the pleasure of hearing at a two day conference in November. He is not some myopic reactionary on the far right of contemprorary pubilc policy. He is a brilliant, perceptive, articulate, politically liberal individual who travels the country speaking at conferences, schools, universities, and business enterprises. Fifteen minutes with him and you will walk away with an awful lot to think about. I had two days.
I have written more than once of the insidious impact our technology is having upon the fabric of our culture and the psyches of our young people. I believe it is fair to say that the staggering array of technology we have before us, and its heretofore unimagined portability, has expanded far more rapidly than our willingness to evaluate the implications of that expansion.
I will start with some appropriate disclaimer - I enjoy and use technology and so do our kids. The ability to locate and obtain information on any subject imaginable at the push of a button is extraordinarily efficacious. In particular for me, the digitilization of music and the ability to carry thousands of songs around in my pocket has enriched my daily life. Even as I write this article I am listening to a fabulous band called The Strokes on the streaming Internet music site Pandora.
You may think the speaker exaggerates - fair enough. But I note the growing body of evidence and work from sociologists and psychologists who are identifying what they openly refer to as "electronic addiction". Devices not much larger than a book of matches now carry more computing and communication power than early desk-tops. And all too often they become not just tools in the hands of our young people, but virtual electronic appendages they can hardly seem to function without. And it's not just an addiction that is unique to young people. The now ubiquitous BlackBerry is referred to as the "CrackBerry", for its capacity to addict those who use them.
Technology is morally neutral, unto itself it is neither good nor bad. It is a tool no different than a car or a refrigerator, designed to enhance and improve our lives, and there can be little question it does both. But the AMOUNT that we use it, the PLACE it holds in our lives, is very much of an issue.
My life is not nearly interesting enough to warrant constant updates to a band of electronic voyeurs - and I don't know anyone whose life is. And I am convinced that the onset of technology is stunting our kids' interest in and ability to engage things more wholesome and edifying than staring at a shimmering green screen that calls to them like some modern day, Siren-song mirage.
The defining difference between young people and geezers like me is that we now see a generation emerging that has never known life WITHOUT these devices and capabilities. I know too many kids who are all but losing the ability to entertain themselves without them. I know too many families with stories of kids taking their phones to bed, texting and surfing well into the night; awaking stilted, tired, and unready to face the day. I know of too many cases where alarmed parents have confiscated such devices, only to find their kids all but bereft and disaffected without them.
The onset of childhood obesity has been simultaneous to this explosion of technology. I don't suggest it is the only cause, nor perhaps even the primary one. But neither do I believe it is coincidence. When technology begins to limit and stunt the ability of our youth to look outside of themselves, to interact with and engage people and ideas without the use of their contraptions, when they eliminate more wholesome and edifying activities from their routines, when the thought of going for a walk or listening to what Mother Nature has to say as opposed to the latest text message is utterly foreign to them, then this should give us pause.
Think about it.