Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
It was 1988. I was five-years-old.
I wasn’t a particularly ‘good’ kid in early primary school. I tried to follow instructions, but things didn’t really ‘click’ for me until later in life. One day, however, I must have been a good student because my teacher rewarded me by letting me use the computer.
I was led by hand to a small room adjacent to the classroom. Nestled in the corner on a wheely truck was a BBC Micro computer. It came complete with a huge floppy disk drive and some kind of touch-pad which I didn’t understand how to use.
It all looked very high-tech and cool to me.
For thirty minutes I was allowed to play vocabulary and maths games. The black screen whirled with green text and pong balls as I tried to solve the problems. The bleeps and 8-bit sounds were awesome.
Later that year my family would buy a far-superior computer and a legendary gaming console – the Atari 520 ST.
If I was lucky I’d get an hour to play on that computer each day. The games were aimed at kids and the themes were vivid and colourful. The Atari machine taught me hand-eye coordination and the basics of using a mouse, floppy disk drive and operating a basic computer. I think it also made me a bit of a dreamer and aided my imagination.
My life back then was very-much centred on the outdoors. The Atari was a nice addition to my life, but I still preferred running though streams and burying my toy cars in the garden.
Fast Forward to 2018
I can’t believe that thirty whole years have passed since 1988. My generation has seen so much change in such a short space of time.
Some technological developments over the past three decades have been revolutionary and beneficial to mankind. The creation of the mainstream internet in 1993, for example, opened peoples’ homes, libraries, offices and schools to a whole new era of possibilities and opportunities in learning, business, entertainment, communication, research and e-commerce.
Along with this sudden treasure trove have come some shocking and extreme societal changes which pose new challenges for all of us.
Take a report published by the Telegraph this week, for example. The headline is enough to stun any parent or teacher:
Children spend up to 10 hours a day ‘mindlessly swiping’ their mobiles, study finds
The article summarizes the findings of technological research into what young people actually do online. It’s thought to be the first time that technology has been used to analyse the mobile-device usage habits of children.
The findings are alarming:
- Behavior is compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
- Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
- Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
- Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
- Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
- Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel
In many cases, children are spending up to 12 hours on their phones per day! Take this shocking example for instance (quoted from the Telegraph article):
Typical was Olympia, aged 17, who in one 24-hour period spent 3.3 hours on Snapchat, 2.5 hours on Instagram, 2 hours on Face Time, 2.4 hours on What’s App and 1.8 hours on Safari – a total of 12 hours.
But I thought that technology was good for kids!
As teachers, we’ve pinned our colours to the ‘Technology Troop’ so much that as soon as people start speaking up about the dangers of widespread and pervasive technological encroachment into peoples’ lives they are often shunned; sometimes disgraced and can be seen as ‘old-fashioned’ or not ‘with the times’.
I once remember a fashionable post and picture from a friend on LinkedIn in which he said “When faced with a steam-rolling technology you either become part of the steam-roller, or part of the road”.
I remember thinking ‘How about you just move out of the way of the steam-roller’?
It didn’t take long before the reflex-action barrage of indignation was fired my way.
But the dangers of compulsive and widespread association with our mobile devices are real – very real:
- A Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in Canada, America and Ireland.
- The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
- Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep.
As teachers and parents we are facing a global health crisis of epic proportions.
The dangers of excessive mobile-device usage are well-researched, fully-supported and very real. Also: ‘excessive’ has become the new ‘normal’.
If we do not take action now, when this problem is in it’s relative infancy, then who’s imagination can predict the problems that are waiting to manifest?
We must no longer subscribe to the notion that technology is amazing and that anyone who criticizes or questions its value in an educational setting is to be shunned or belittled. There are legitimate reasons for being concerned about the encroachment of screen time into childrens’ lives.
Next week, I’ll be exploring ways in which adults can reduce the screen time of their children and students. We all must help. We all must take action now.