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  article of the month
We will feature a new article here each month written by one of our group members. These articles are offered free for your information and are not meant to provide individual advice or psychotherapy.

Click here for previous Articles, Psych Bytes, News, and Book Reviews by topic.


May 2007


DISCONNECTING TO RECHARGE: BALANCING TECHNOLOGY IN DAILY LIFE

by 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 the making.

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
technology.

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 article.)

References

Hallowell, Edward, Crazybusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap, 2007.

Jobs, Steve, Wired, February, 1996.

Suellentrop, Chris, Utne, “Playing with Our Heads,” January-February, 2007.

Wallis, Claudia, Time, “Are Kids Too Wired for Their Own Good?,” March 27, 2006.





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