Not too long ago, in a colorful dreamlike world called the ’80s, children constantly played hide and seek outside. The older ones would shoot hoops in makeshift courts in the middle of the street while grown-ups watched, passing a shot glass around a card table, laughing about the good old days, and toasting to the future.
If they knew what today was going to be like, they probably wouldn’t raise a glass to it. Today, people may be gathered around the table, but their eyes and minds are somewhere else. While the platter of rice is being passed around, people are checking their messages and the children are slaying bad piggies.
While the Internet is supposed to connect us and make the world smaller, it is also doing a great job of disconnecting us. It is meant to save lives and improve our lifestyle, but at the same time, it is killing us. It’s killing our children’s childhood, the art of conversation, and the value of company. It’s seeing the death of common courtesy. It has undoubtedly made life easier for us, but it has also made it easy for us to do away with simple kind gestures or actual human contact. Nowadays, human interaction has been reduced to text messages or worse, a hashtag. In most cases, we’ve done away with phone calls because it’s quicker to send a message, and quicker still with predictive text and templates or a single letter: “K.”
And even when we have finally found the time to gather and break bread, we are on our mobile devices juggling two worlds at the same time. Often, we are more present in the other world, tweeting about the moment that we should be IN. According to TED conference speaker Renny Gleeson, whatever the reason is, when we’re on our mobile device while we’re with company, it’s like we’re saying “You are not as important as anything that could come to me through this device.”
But it’s not like we don’t like the company that we’re with; it’s human nature of today. We can’t help but constantly check our phones, the way people ages ago were drawn to their watches, frequently checking the time. “Because we can, we check. And therefore we check often because we’re worried about falling behind,” says tree hugger and TED speaker Graham Hill so aptly.
Screen time has also become a form of avoidance or a shield. It’s awkward to be dining alone, so instead of enjoying our environment, we busy ourselves checking email. Or how about those awkward pauses when we can no longer think of what to say next? The mobile phone comes to the rescue. It also saves us from eye contact.
Our devices have saved us so many times in so many ways that we’ve become so reliant on it right from the moment we wake up, checking our phone immediately after we’ve shut the alarm. And even when we’re doing our business in the bathroom, we’re scrolling through our newsfeed.
We’d like to think that these devices are our servants, at our beck and call, but in many ways, technology has enslaved us. So much so that we stand in line for hours just to get the latest version of the iPhone, maxing out our credit cards, or using up a whole month’s pay without a moment’s hesitation.
We’re practically tied to our mobile devices. We freak out when our phone dies or sink into depression when our computer crashes. We feel disconnected, out of sorts, like we’re missing a limb. Without our intelligent personal assistant, we are lost. We rely on them for everything that we are constantly talking to Siri or Cortana more than we are with our wife or our mother.
Never mind the harm it brings to our relationships, how about the dangers it presents to life itself when we’re driving while texting or sharing videos while our baby is in the bathtub? A few years back, a mom from Colorado was sentenced to 10 years in prison for negligence. She left her 13-month-old boy in the bathtub to get on Facebook and found him lifeless minutes later when she returned.
If we’re not killing our kids, we’re killing their brain cells, their future, and a chance at experiencing the real world—not the virtual one. Studies show that regular exposure to TV and other media at a young age can lead to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) later in childhood. It can also lead to poor nutrition and obesity, attention problems, social ineptitude, violence, substance abuse. The list goes on.
And yet the Xbox or a newer phone (because everyone in class has one) is constantly on the wish list of children and more often than not granted. Even 7-year-olds or younger have their own cell phones. A toddler doesn’t know how to use the potty yet, let alone wipe his own behind, but he can easily swipe and slide his grubby fingers across a tablet’s home screen.
We are quick to give not only because we want our offspring happy, but also because we know it will keep them busy and off our case if only for a couple of hours. The latest iPhone will stop a tween from whining or flirting with the boy next door (unbeknownst to us, she’s flirting with a 34-year-old pervert online). And it’s all too easy to tone down a temper tantrum with a tablet—so far, the world’s best nanny.
Ironically, you would not see this scene in Steve Jobs’s household. The creator of the iPad himself would not let his kids anywhere near electronics, especially at the dining table. Walter Isaacson, author of the authorized Steve Jobs biography, witnessed firsthand Jobs’ “low-tech” parenting at home. According to the biographer, dinnertime at Apple central was spent talking about books and history. None of the kids were addicted to any devices.
Apparently, it’s the same for many tech advocates in Silicon Valley. In a New York Times article, Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired, confessed that he can be a “fascist” when it comes to controlling use of electronic devices at home. “…we have seen the dangers of technology first hand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”
Technology execs and capitalists aren’t the only ones concerned about the degrading effects of technology. Albert Einstein has been rumored to say “I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” It hasn’t been verified that he indeed said this, but there may be some truth to this statement. Has that day finally arrived?