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DISCONNECTING TO RECHARGE: BALANCING TECHNOLOGY IN
Susan Harper Slate, Ph.D.
A few years ago, I attended my godson’s college graduation. The
student speaker was talking about what the parent generation thought of
her “Generation X.” She was recounting characteristics that
her parent generation saw, but she did not think were true. She stated:
“they believe my generation, with all our technology, are flighty
and have poor attention spans. Oh my God! I love your hat!” as she
pointed to someone in the audience. I burst out laughing, thinking she
had purposely set up this joke, but realized, laughing alone, it was not
meant to be funny.
The ability to adapt is both one of our most important strengths and sometimes,
a grave weakness. People can adapt to unhealthy and dysfunctional situations.
In Claudia Wallis’ article, (Time, March 27, 2006) “Are Kids
Too Wired for Their Own Good?” she discusses a study being done
at UCLA. Elinor Ochs, an anthropologist, is monitoring the effect of multitasking
technology on family life. In less than one generation’s time, 82%
of kids are using the internet by the seventh grade. The study is finding
that kids are still spending about the same amount of time on electronic
gadgetry that they did some fifteen years ago, but they are packing more
into those 6.5 hours by multitasking: listening to their iPods, while
Iming friends, and studying, all at the same time. From one-quarter to
one-third of kids say they are simultaneously involved in more than one
medium “most of the time.” This is dangerous adaptation in
In this evolution, are we losing some essential human ability or experience?
Something perhaps, that would be hard to measure? I remember discussing
the impact of television on children with a colleague of mine. She said
“we grew up watching hours of TV and we turned out fine. It didn’t
hurt us.” I’m not so sure. I spent most of my childhood summers
on my grandparents’ farm in South Carolina. They had a TV, but I
don’t remember ever watching it. With my cousins, we foraged through
forests, built forts and teepees, swung from trees, helped feed the cows
and other animals, ate watermelon with our bare hands, and sometimes rode
along on the tractors. My uncle accidentally killed a
doe but he saved her fawn and we raised him. Years after being released,
the stag would come to the edge of the trees and look at us. I’m
hard pressed to tell you exactly what I got from all that, but by comparison,
my hours of playing Tetris, Free Cell, or Sims pale into insignificance.
My grandparents’ world was hard and I saw what they had to do to
make it work. I marveled at my grandfather’s ability to feel the
soil to know what it needed, how he was with the animals, how he could
fix anything. My grandmother made a fabulous dinner every night, without
recipe. After dinner, as an extended family we’d sit out on the
front porch, the kids usually playing in the yard. There was no music
but the sound of “bob white” calling from the birds, and our
own talking. There was a natural rhythm to the day, and the night was
filled only with restorative sleep. It was everyday sacred.
Perhaps that’s what we’re losing in the morass of gadgetry.
The benefits (and the detriments) of technology are still being discovered.
In the article (Utne, January-February, 2007) “Playing with our
Heads,” the author talks about the military uses of video games
to teach soldiers. “Games can do more than make you a better soldier,
or improve your hand-eye coordination or your spatial orientation skills.
They can make you more intelligent.” Studies cited in the article
seem to indicate that video-gamers learn the trial and error method, and
the benefit of delayed gratification. Sounds good, doesn’t it? They
also observe, however, that video-gamers may be more obedient and eager
to conform to the rules. This may make for a perfect soldier, but not
necessarily a perfect life. Games do not allow for innovation, perhaps
affecting creativity and curiosity, and the ability to “think outside
the box.” Steve Jobs said in Wired (February, 1996):
I used to think that technology could help education.
I’ve probably spearheaded giving away more computer
equipment than anybody else on the planet. But I’ve had
to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is
not one that technology can hope to solve… Historical
precedent shows that we can turn out amazing human
beings without technology. Precedent also shows that
we can turn out very uninteresting human beings with
So what’s the answer? As many people have seen the bumper sticker,
“Kill Your Television”, do we need one to announce “Kill
Your Computer”? We all know this is impractical. After all, I’m
typing this article on my computer, you’re reading this on yours,
and it’s time-saving and efficient. Learning to balance the time
and significance technology plays in ours life may be the only answer.
I challenge you to a comparison test. One evening, let yourself do all
the technological things you enjoy—music, DVD, computer, IMing,
etc. On the second evening, turn off the gadgets. Take a walk. Talk to
your family. Look at the sunset. Tell me—and yourself—which
night gave you more, on the inside of you? Which evening was more relaxing?
Which was more meaningful? Which was more everyday sacred?
(For more thoughts on limiting the role technology has in your life, including
some appropriate guidelines for children, see the Psych Bytes for this
Hallowell, Edward, Crazybusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to
Jobs, Steve, Wired, February, 1996.
Suellentrop, Chris, Utne, “Playing with Our Heads,”
Wallis, Claudia, Time, “Are Kids Too Wired for Their Own
Good?,” March 27, 2006.
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