03 September 2013

Being a wise consumer of technology

As a neuroscientist and a dad, I am interested in how technology affects us.  Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows, was eye opening about the degree to which screen time affects our brains and our social interactions. Unfortunately, most of us (my family included) are not being wise about our consumption of technology.  Bioethics professor Peter Lawler is exploring this topic in a course he is teaching this year and he relies, in part, upon Mark Bauerlein's book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. He shared some thoughts of his own mixed with Bauerlein's on his blog:

1. Virtually all of our students have hours--and often many, many hours--of daily exposure to screens.

 2. So they excel at multitasking and interactivity, and they have very strong spatial skills.

 3. They also have remarkable visual acuity; they’re ready for rushing images and updated information.

 4. BUT these skills don’t transfer well to--they don’t have much to do with--the non-screen portions of their lives.

 5. Their screen experiences, in fact, undermine their taste and capacity for building knowledge and developing their verbal skills.

6. They, for example, hate quiet and being alone. Because they rely so much on screens keeping them connected, they can’t rely on themselves. Because they’re constantly restless or stimulated, they don’t know what it is to enjoy civilized leisure. The best possible punishment for an adolescent today is to make him or her spend an evening alone in his or her room without any screens, devices, or gadgets to divert him or her. It’s amazing the extent to which screens have become multidimensional diversions from what we really know about ourselves.

 7. Young people today typically are too agitated and impatient to engage in concerted study. Their imaginations are impoverished when they’re visually unstimulated. So their eros is too. They can’t experience anxiety as a prelude to wonder, and they too rarely become seekers and searchers.

 8. They have trouble comprehending or being moved by the linear, sequential analysis of texts.

 9. So they find it virtually impossible to spend an idle afternoon with a detective story and nothing more.

 10. That’s why they can be both so mentally agile and culturally ignorant. That’s even why they know little to nothing about how to live well with love and death, as well as why their relational lives are so impoverished.

 11. And that’s why higher education--or liberal education--has to be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen. That’s even why liberal education has to have as little as possible to do with screens.

 12. Everywhere and at all times, liberal education is countercultural. And so today it’s necessarily somewhat anti-technology, especially anti-screen.  That’s one reason among many I’m so hard on MOOCs, online courses, PowerPoint, and anyone who uses the word “disrupting” without subversive irony.

As parents, we need to be deeply aware of the role technology plays in the lives of our youngsters.  Unfortunately, as a father, it is often easier to just give the kids the iPad.  Further, we model poorly as parents when we sit with our cell phones, laptops, or iPads in our laps all day.  We must take hold of this drift and seek to push back against it, to use technology wisely rather than foolishly. 

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