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The Smartphone Menace

In Charlottesville, I found myself having a lunch conversation one day with some folks who are involved in Christian education at the elementary and secondary level. They were talking about the challenges they face today. One of the biggest is the ubiquity of smartphones in the hands of kids. Parents think nothing of giving them to their children, the educators said, and many kids have virtually unlimited access to the Internet. There’s the “older brother porn problem” in which younger kids get turned on to porn by watching it on an older sibling’s smartphone. And there’s the problem of “After School App,” [1] an anonymous bulletin board service designed for high schoolers, one that allows them to gang up on other kids in their class and trash them mercilessly.

Parents, I was told, are typically no help at all. They don’t want their kids to be out of step with their friends, so they give kids smartphones, which is a technology the kids aren’t emotionally prepared to use. There’s all kinds of bullying, and accessing porn — but parents don’t seem to want to know about it because they don’t want to have to tell their kids no.

One of the educators at the table added that the problem is not limited to the content accessed through the phones, but to the way using these devices is radically distorting the way kids communicate with each other, or fail to. Even if the kids only accessed benign content, and did not use social media to attack each other, they nevertheless spend enormous amounts of time on their smartphones, ignoring everyone around them. Some of them have trouble sustaining an actual conversation for more than a few minutes. All of them are losing the habits of common courtesy that has since forever been how human beings in social situations treat each other.

Listening to this, I thought about the time we had a dinner party at which the youngest guest at the table, a woman of about 24, pulled out her smartphone and began checking her mail. I thought perhaps she was expecting an urgent message; why else would someone drop out of the conversation and turn to her iPhone at the dinner table. But no, that’s exactly what she was doing. She sat in her seat ignoring everyone else at the table for a good 10 minutes, until, it seemed, the conversation topic turned to something that interested her. It was appallingly rude. But that’s how kids are today.

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Jacob Weisberg surveys recent volumes devoted to studying how we use this technology. The title says it all: “We Are Hopelessly Hooked” [2]. Excerpts:

Americans spend an average of five and a half hours a day with digital media, more than half of that time on mobile devices, according to the research firm eMarketer. Among some groups, the numbers range much higher. In one recent survey, female students at Baylor University reported using their cell phones an average of ten hours a day. Three quarters of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds say that they reach for their phones immediately upon waking up in the morning. Once out of bed, we check our phones 221 times a day—an average of every 4.3 minutes—according to a UK study. This number actually may be too low, since people tend to underestimate their own mobile usage. In a 2015 Gallup survey, 61 percent of people said they checked their phones less frequently than others they knew.

Our transformation into device people has happened with unprecedented suddenness. The first touchscreen-operated iPhones went on sale in June 2007, followed by the first Android-powered phones the following year. Smartphones went from 10 percent to 40 percent market penetration faster than any other consumer technology in history. In the United States, adoption hit 50 percent only three years ago. Yet today, not carrying a smartphone indicates eccentricity, social marginalization, or old age.

What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines?

More:

It is the troubling aspects of social and mobile media that Sherry Turkle attends to in her wise and observant new book, Reclaiming Conversation. A clinical psychologist and sociologist who teaches at MIT, Turkle is by no means antitechnology. But after a career examining relations between people and computers, she blends her description with advocacy. She presents a powerful case that a new communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships—with family and friends, as well as colleagues and romantic partners. The picture she paints is both familiar and heartbreaking: parents who are constantly distracted on the playground and at the dinner table; children who are frustrated that they can’t get their parents’ undivided attention; gatherings where friends who are present vie for attention with virtual friends; classrooms where professors gaze out at a sea of semiengaged multitaskers; and a dating culture in which infinite choice undermines the ability to make emotional commitments.

Turkle finds the roots of the problem in the failure of young people absorbed in their devices to develop fully independent selves, a topic she began to explore in Alone Together (2011). In that book, she examined the way interaction with robotic toys and “always on” connections affect adolescent development. She argued that phones and texting disrupt the ability to separate from one’s parents, and raise other obstacles to adulthood. Curating a Facebook profile alters the presentation of self. Absorption in a gaming avatar can become a flight from the difficulties of real life. Young people face new anxieties around the loss of privacy and the persistence of online data.

In her new book, she expresses a version of those concerns that is as much philosophic as psychiatric. Because they aren’t learning how to be alone, she contends, young people are losing their ability to empathize. “It’s the capacity for solitude that allows you to reach out to others and see them as separate and independent,” Turkle writes. Without an ability to look inward, those locked into the virtual worlds of social media develop a sensibility of “I share, therefore I am,” crafting their identities for others. Continuous digital performance leaves teenagers experiencing what ought to be the satisfactions of solitude only as “disconnection anxiety.”

As in her earlier work, Turkle considers this loss of empathy as both a clinician and an ethnographer. She culls from hundreds of interviews she has done since 2008, the first year many high school and college students became armed with smartphones. Unhappy teachers at one private middle school in upstate New York describe students who don’t make eye contact or respond to body language, who have trouble listening and talking to teachers, and can’t see things from another’s point of view, recognize when they’ve hurt someone, or form friendships based on trust. “It is as though they all have some signs of being on an Asperger’s spectrum,” one teacher tells her. Turkle even seeks to quantify the damage, repeatedly citing a study that shows a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students over the past twenty years as measured by standard psychological tests.

One more thing, about how young people communicate:

One group of students explains that when they get together physically, they “layer” online conversations on top of face-to-face ones, with people who are in the same room.

It sounds insane, doesn’t it? But I have personally seen children with smartphones sitting in the same room, texting or Instagramming each other, not for the novelty of it, but because that’s just how they roll.

Read the whole thing. [2]There’s a discussion, based on another book, about how app designers use research from psychology and other disciplines to maximize the addictiveness of their apps. “But in the main, his book reads like one of those tobacco industry documents about manipulating nicotine levels in cigarettes.”

In the several separate conversations I’ve had about this phenomenon in Charlottesville, someone has said a version of, “You know, Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his kids use smartphones.” I wondered if it was an urban legend. But no, it’s true. [3]Excerpts:

“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

More from that same 2010 New York Times article:

Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.

I was perplexed by this parenting style. After all, most parents seem to take the opposite approach, letting their children bathe in the glow of tablets, smartphones and computers, day and night.

Yet these tech C.E.O.’s seem to know something that the rest of us don’t.

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home. “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules,” he said of his five children, 6 to 17. “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

The dangers [4] he is referring to include exposure to harmful content [5] like pornography, bullying from other kids [6], and perhaps worse of all, becoming addicted to their devices, just like their parents.

More:

So how do tech moms and dads determine the proper boundary for their children? In general, it is set by age.

Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted, so these parents draw the line at not allowing any gadgets during the week. On weekends, there are limits of 30 minutes to two hours on iPad and smartphone use. And 10- to 14-year-olds are allowed to use computers on school nights, but only for homework.

“We have a strict no screen time during the week rule for our kids,” said Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group, a tech media relations and analytics company. “But you have to make allowances as they get older and need a computer for school.”

Some parents also forbid teenagers from using social networks, except for services like Snapchat, which deletes messages [7] after they have been sent. This way they don’t have to worry about saying something online that will haunt them later in life, one executive told me.

Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.

Read the whole thing.  [3] These are the adults in this world who know more about tech and these devices and media than anybody else. And they shield their children from it. Here’s a comment to the story that’s chilling:

Angel_Ysa

September 12, 2014

I was addicted to Facebook at a young age. I was addicted to TV. After losing my parents and having to go out on my own, I discovered how technology can sometimes corrupt who you are when you don’t set limits on yourself. I would stay up till 3 or 4 AM on these sites. All of the typical life aspects were affected by my behavior. You start comparing yourself to people. You get depressed.

Now, I don’t even own a TV, have no accounts on any social media website. There a couple of apps on my phone but not one single game or distraction. All the interaction I have with friends is by visiting them and I stay in touch with the outside world through my new found joy of reading news and books. I wish I could have discovered this at an earlier age but I’m glad I did even now. Some people just seem to let themselves get trapped and have no way out.

My wife and I are already pretty strict about these devices with our kids. Having listened to what teachers, school administrators, and others who see first-hand what these technologies are doing to students, and having read these articles sitting in the airport waiting for my flight out of Charlottesville, I resolved that we are going to have to be even stricter. Our little girl came home from a friend’s house down the street nearly in tears the other day because she didn’t have an electronic device (we won’t let her leave the house with one), and her friends did. They were playing with their devices. My kid told her friends that she didn’t have a device, so she was going to have to go home. The other kids never once looked up or acknowledged that she was leaving. They were mesmerized. Our kids are going to suffer like that socially, but this weekend, after hearing testimonials from teachers and others who deal with the consequences of what these technologies are doing to individuals and to the social environment of teenagers, I don’t care. It’s too important to protect them while they are developing, and prevent them from becoming narcissists and self-induced autists.

I would like to hear from teachers and school administrators in this blog’s readership on this topic. What are you seeing? What are you dealing with?

77 Comments (Open | Close)

77 Comments To "The Smartphone Menace"

#1 Comment By Gina R. On February 14, 2016 @ 9:38 pm

Unfortunately, your article confirms my worst fears for the future of our children.

I am an elementary school teacher, and am so disheartened by what I am seeing infiltrating today’s youth. More importantly, I am seeing the problem worsen exponentially month to month. This problem is the unmonitored and unlimited use of technology by today’s young children, which is leading to an abhorrent abuse of technology’s intended purpose.

My initial concern with children’s fascination with technology related to their diminished attention spans in class. Over the course of the past few years, I clearly see attention spans waning and attribute it to the immediate gratification that video games and technology provide.

More recently, I, too, feel that there is most likely an addictive factor, that technology companies are WELL aware of, in fact, even manipulating, that can be analogized to the addictive nature of nicotine that cigarette companies so effectively hid. I can’t say that I observe this as much in the classroom as I do in public venues such as restaurants. Entire families are linked into their devices with little or no
person-to-person interactions. The social implications of this alone are staggering along with the stunting of the emotional development of these children.

Most recently, and most disturbing, is what is now beginning to infiltrate America’s elementary schools. Children, as young as nine and ten years old, have now learned how to access pornography through the Internet. They say good night to their parents, turn out the lights, and have free reign to peruse the infinite amount of unfiltered pornography on the web. The next day, the bus ride to school is quite interesting as Johnny shows his five friends the latest porn site he came across. Those five friends each tell their five friends, and so on, and so on (as I said, exponentially worsening month by month). The latest acronym in schools is BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology), which is meant for students to utilize their personal technology, for the purposes of learning, in a structured manner. Go back to Johnny. Before you know it, at some point during the school day, Johnny has found a way to share his new found discovery with his unsuspecting nine and ten year old classmates. There are serious repercussions as these innocent children are being exposed to these disturbing images/actions. Even scarier is the desensitization of young minds.

I am led to this question – WHY are parents providing their children with a device that has unlimited, uncontrolled access to something as enormous and dangerous as the Internet? Parents don’t let their kids out of their sight in a busy mall, they don’t let them talk to strangers, they monitor their friends, and they don’t let them attend rated R movies. Yet, they are purchasing data plans which provide their children with unlimited access to the Internet with little or no supervision or restrictions.

The can of worms has been opened, and they are out. I shutter to think of where this will lead our society in the not so distant future.

#2 Comment By max skinner On February 14, 2016 @ 11:05 pm

Oh my. Television was said to have ruined my 1960 born age cohort. My parents were ticked off because I’d rather read than participate in almost any other activity. I’d go off to my room to read rather than join the family in many things.

Good manners are what is at stake, not cell phones. Teach them to talk to people’s faces, not their shoes. Be polite and responsive. Don’t mumble while answering or asking questions. Say please and thank you. My children all had first jobs in customer service. They knew how to address people, to be polite and responsive. Their employers talked about how mature they were for being teenagers. They weren’t mature; they just knew how to behave.

Teach responsible use of technology. Don’t give kids phones too early, don’t tolerate phones at the dinner table or during activities, absolutely don’t tolerate phones at bed time and thereafter. Our kid’s phones (received in the 8th grade) had to be in a basket in the kitchen during dinner, homework time and at bedtime….parents too, not just children. Use the parental controls most providers have to limit web surfing. Talk with them about what is appropriate, allowed, about how you think about things like pornography, bullying and anything else. Yes they will text their friends rather than call them, even when their friends are in the same room. That’s immaturity and desire to carve out their own worlds.

We must behave the way we expect our children to behave. That’s key.

#3 Comment By Adam On February 15, 2016 @ 12:31 am

I agree with Sam M. Yes, there are problems with students being constantly connected and distracted, but they are not new problems, just a new manifestation of our sinful human nature.

I am a college professor at a small Christian college. Being untenured and reliant on achieving certain student evaluation scores, I have decided to not fight the battle against smartphones, at least not directly. As I tell my students, if you’re bent on distraction, you don’t need a phone–you can doodle, daydream, look at birds out the window, etc. Banning phones might help, but I’m unwilling to risk antagonizing a substantial group of students and have them sink me come eval time. Also, as I tell the students, the phones can be used for good–we have a world of information at our fingertips and I encourage students to become adept at fact-finding with their phones, rather than just shrugging their shoulders when I ask information-based questions.

All that being said, phone use has not been a major problem in my classroom. Talking/ chatting causes as much if not more distraction, and absenteeism/ non-completion of assignments is the big factor in academic non-achievement (note I’m not saying “cause” of non-achievement, as the root cause of students not learning/ not showing/ not working is the fundamentally moral failing of the non-development of work ethic, sense of pride in personal development, etc. If students come into my classroom with no work ethic or concern about their own learning, I cannot instill that in them at age 18 or 19, regardless of my device policy. If students do have even a nascent work ethic, I think they’ll tend to put the phones away themselves (especially after the wake-up call known as “Midterm Exam 1”).

I am grateful to Rod for bringing these issues up, however, and providing a warning to parents who might not be paying sufficient attention to the effects of device-addiction on their kids.

#4 Comment By Lee On February 15, 2016 @ 12:46 am

Embracing the profane, does not lead to wholeness…one also cannot know the divine if they are disconnected from the natural world.

#5 Comment By SJ Wilson On February 15, 2016 @ 1:45 am

I taught two years in the public schools and am now at a Christian school in a developing European country.
The public school was horrendous. It had a cell phone policy that phones couldn’t be out during the day but it was not enforced by the administration (nor could it really be unless that was all they did all day every day), nor by the teachers (for largely the same reason). I am a new teacher so had a difficult enough time getting through the lesson let alone stopping every 5 seconds to tell the students to put their phones away or have a conflict where I asked for it, was denied then waited on an administrator to come pick it up followed by phone calls and paperwork and all kinds of other stuff that sucked time away from preparing lessons, grading papers, etc.
I taught a subject that had a state test tied to it. The funny thing is that the teacher on my team who was the enforcer of all the rules much more consistently than me had similar outcomes on those tests. And she had to do a lot of fighting with students over it. Since its compulsory school my philosophy was that it was their choice whether they learned or not. I’ll become more strict in the future.
Here at the private Christian school, the cell phone policy is more enforceable but the students still try to check their phones all the time and they whine about the policy but an environment without phones is much more conducive to learning for sure EXCEPT where you take advantage of apps like Kahoot where the phone becomes an interactive learning device.
One other note: I live in a relatively poor country (definitely by European standards) with an per capita GDP of around $8000 and yet smart phones among young people is pervasive. This tells me that all around the world young people are mainly checking social media and taking pictures of themselves. Last year I showed my students a video about Narcissus. We live in his world now more than ever.

#6 Comment By Scotty On February 15, 2016 @ 5:56 am

I am an 8th grade teacher who is constantly told that my students and I must use technology in the classroom, which is fine; however, I find that the minute my students open their laptops they disengage from what is happening outside the screen. They begin to e-mail, surf, look at pictures, etc. Therefore, I strictly limit computer use. Until I see proof that technology = better readers and writers, there will be traditional reading and writing in my classroom.

#7 Comment By Joseph On February 15, 2016 @ 9:00 am

Maybe it’s because I’m younger, maybe it’s because I’m a hedonistic hippie liberal, but this strikes me as sheer lunacy.

What I read when I read this is that there are people out there who don’t want kids to have smartphones because smartphones afford access to cultural knowledge and information that these people desperately want to shield children from.

What I read was the story of a kid who is culturally divorced from her peer group, who will be ostracized, who will be socially invisible, all for the sake of preventing her from seeing anything that might be in a standard PG-rated movie. I feel compassion for any school-aged kid who has to suffer through that.

Technology is not evil, and it is not the modern equivalent of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

#8 Comment By John M On February 15, 2016 @ 9:27 am

The problem I’ve observed is that the phone provides instant validation. It used to be that parents had the hours after school to undo the damage done by spending the day with savages. Now, the savages are right there in their pocket, ready to provide validation, “You’re right, your dad is a jerk. He should not have come down on you for punching the wall”. Seeing it happen here made me see the value of homeschooling.

#9 Comment By Sj On February 15, 2016 @ 10:10 am

You might be interested in this article from Popular Mechanics, “Technology and the American Teenager”: [8]

Fascinating. As the parent of many teenagers/recent teenagers, it reinforces my purpose to be Amish about technology use, not in the sense of never using it, but as considering it a means to an end, like the computer and the GPS and the phone used to be, and in teaching my kids to be very intentional about where and when they use it.

My sister once, looking for her smartphone, said with a distracted look on her face, “I need to find it, that’s my life.” That’s when I decided that I was not going to be electronically tethered to one device. Engineers know that redundancy strengthens the robustness of any system, and that’s our philosophy now. My husband has a smartphone that his work pays for, but we still use an automotive GPS, we have a land line, we subscribe to print magazines and newspapers, and we even have a flashlight or two. It may be more expensive, but inexpensive convenience is a sneaky trap that draws you into ever more dependence upon one device.

#10 Comment By TR On February 15, 2016 @ 11:30 am

I second Sam M. at 8:59 a. m. Some people check out facts on their smart phone before commenting; others should. And you’re going to deny children the same labor-and face-saving device because it’s new?

Let’s all smoke cigarettes and talk about sex.

#11 Comment By ARM On February 15, 2016 @ 12:13 pm

Joseph: “What I read when I read this is that there are people out there who don’t want kids to have smartphones because smartphones afford access to cultural knowledge and information that these people desperately want to shield children from.

What I read was the story of a kid who is culturally divorced from her peer group, who will be ostracized, who will be socially invisible, all for the sake of preventing her from seeing anything that might be in a standard PG-rated movie.”

Well, what you read is not what Rod wrote. His post and anecdote were not so much about protecting his daughter from bad content on digital media, as about the distorting effect the medium itself is having on her peers’ ability to interact with other humans: children who’d rather stare at a screen than interact with friends, and teens who are so accustomed to texting that they find an oral conversation uncomfortably intimate.

In other words, the biggest evil here is something good that smartphones are taking away from life, not something bad they’re adding to life. (Although that’s an issue too, obviously.

#12 Comment By John On February 15, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

I studied at a training program for a certain large corporation. At one time all the students were provided with notebooks with the training materials on them. Students from out of town were put up at a local hotel. A hotel employee knocked on the door of one the rooms housing a student, announced ‘Housekeeping, and was told ‘Come in! by the student. The employee was surprised to observe the student pleasuring himself while watching material he had imported on to the notebook. After this episode the notebooks were removed, phones were banned, and students could be let go by the company simply for having their cell phones go off in class.

#13 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 15, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

My Dad was a senior educator. While I only followed in his footsteps insofar as homeschooling our own, we began that by banishing the manufactured television laff track from our home, for all of us.

Without vision, the people perish. The one on a handheld device viewed from a foot away is very nearsighted.

#14 Comment By Rurik On February 15, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

My nephew Kristan cannot write cursively. I’m not saying that he won’t do so: he can’t do so, beyond signing his name.

Kristan is 32 years old. I shudder to think what today’s kids will be in/capable of at that age.

#15 Comment By John On February 15, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

There are all types of people in this world. For those of us who, because we are socially awkward or because we are natural introverts, find burying ourselves in the iPhone as a relief.

Now, there is a time and a place for everything. I don’t think they should be permitted in the schools. If the parent needs to reach their son or daughter he or she can reach them through the school’s proper administrative channel but these devices can be a lifesaver for those who express themselves better through writing and for those who, because they may be introverted or socially awkward, use the appropriate downtime.

#16 Comment By thenextbubble On February 15, 2016 @ 1:50 pm

Hmm, this may partially Bernie Sanders popularity with college kids. They don’t know how to be independent, and here is this old guy promising them free stuff they don’t have to work for.

#17 Comment By Wilbur Post On February 15, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

Gosh, I don’t even have a smart phone – and the article is right, I am older (64.) But I see exactly these things all over – perhaps I was one of the few that notice them since I’m one of the few not looking at a phone all the time. 🙂 The other day I saw an older man (older than me) driving thru a parking lot at about 1 mile an hour. Turns out he was looking at his smart phone – I don’t know if he even knew his car was in gear. Yikes.

[NFR: My son and I were driving along Highway 61 a couple of weeks ago, and saw someone driving the SUV in front of us nearly crash as she left the highway abruptly, hit the shoulder, then swerved back onto the road. “I bet she was texting,” I told my son. We switched into the left lane to speed past her, and sure enough, she STILL had her head bent, texting, despite the fact that she was piloting an SUV at 55 mph down a major highway, and had seconds earlier nearly crashed. — RD]

#18 Comment By roc scssrs On February 15, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

I was at a librarians’ conference where we were addressed by a researcher who studied young people and their use of technology and social media. The main finding, applicable across all age groups and categories, was “They do not like blocks of text.” We are facing the end of literature and civilization.

#19 Comment By Nicolas On February 15, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

When our daughter was 10, my ex-wife gave an iPhone. I strongly objected but lost, of course. Not only did it change my daughter, but it changed her opinion of me when I didn’t let her use it (much) at my house. They can do great harm these expensive distractions.

#20 Comment By commonsensemom On February 15, 2016 @ 5:40 pm

It’s a losing battle. We have strict limits on screen time in our home up until age 18. Our oldest slipped effortlessly into the must-be-connected-constantly-can’t-live-without-it mode when she began college.

To be fair, I know adults (even senior citizens!) who are just as bad with the smartphone.

#21 Comment By Patrick On February 15, 2016 @ 5:51 pm

Smart phones distract us and thus inhibit our ability to study, pray and treat one another with compassion. See Simone Weil’s comments on the importance of “attention”:

Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer. … Although people seem to be unaware of it today, the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies. When we set out to do a piece of work, it is necessary to wish to do it correctly, because such a wish is indispensable in any true effort. Underlying this immediate objective, however, our deep purpose should aim solely at increasing the power of attention with a view of prayer.
… Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough.

#22 Comment By ginger On February 15, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

roc scssrs: The main finding, applicable across all age groups and categories, was “They do not like blocks of text.”

Nobody reads. At least that is my team’s mantra in our workplace (tech industry). Our emails and reports tend to be very short, mostly bullet-pointed. It’s our best shot at capturing a bit of attention before the “delete” button gets hit. Long narratives are the death knell for effective communication in my place of work.

I used to be an avid reader, but had to give it up when I had children. I lose myself entirely in a book (as in, I literally do not hear people directly speaking to me, or anything else happening around me, for that matter), and I am incredibly crabby when somebody tries to pull me out of it (not entirely unlike the high school students who get aggressive when their smart phones are taken away–I can relate on some level) . This did not bode for anything close to decent parenting, so the reading of anything beyond the length of a magazine article was abandoned. Now most of my children are older, and I see on the horizon an empty nest that would allow me to return to my book-devouring ways. But honestly, I don’t know if I CAN return. The few times I’ve tried to get into a book in the past decade or so, it’s required a significant effort, an effort that frankly I wasn’t sure was worth it. I have no doubt that is largely due to having become habituated to browsing the internet on various devices.

#23 Comment By Jay M. On February 16, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

My wife and I have been observing many of these very problems and concerned about them for some time and what continually astounds us is how so many parents evince such indifference towards them (as your post notes). Our oldest daughter attends a private Eastern Orthodox school here in Wichita which we adore but due to financial realities we send our younger daughter and son to a nearby public elementary school. Yet we have decided to remove them both at the end of the year and homeschool them due in part to problems such as are listed here. On several occasions when picking them up in the afternoon either my wife or I have observed kids looking at inappropriate content on smartphones either while walking away from school or in a couple cases right there on the school grounds. When I spoke with a school administrator about my concerns she said, “Well, what do you want us to do about it? We prohibit kids from using phones and devices in school.” I said I understand they can’t control what kids a block away are doing but at the very least they could make it a hard rule to confiscate devices if kids are found using them on school grounds and then notify the parents to come retrieve them. She laughed and said, “Do you have any idea the hell we’d catch from the parents themselves if we did that?!” When we’ve discussed these concerns with other parents with kids at the school they look at us like we’re speaking in tongues to them. I can’t count the number of times we’ve been told we’re over-reacting or are just weird for not letting our 10 year old have a smartphone and for restricting her and our 8 and 5 year olds’ access to games on devices to 15 minutes at a time twice a day on the weekends. We even get this kind of thing at church. We talk with fellow believers about the inappropriate things we’ve observed these kids doing with their smartphones and how this is part of why we’re pulling our kids from that school and we get told we’re over-reacting. We shared the column you wrote last week on “Smartphones as Hand Grenades” with multiple people and over and over again were met with indifferent shrugs and comments of “Yeah, that’s too bad” or strident assertions that their kids don’t get involved in that bad stuff on their phones. We stopped allowing our 8 year old to sit during the service with one friend because our daughter would spend the whole service watching her friend play on her tablet or watching the parents do things on theirs. What stunned us was that our daughter’s friend told her she was happy to put her tablet away so they could still sit together sometimes but her parents bristled and told us we were being ridiculous. Man, Rod, it’s hard enough raising kids when they’re getting bombarded with this stuff from all sides in the wider culture. When it rears its head in the church and otherwise good, God-fearing, Jesus-loving parents are so oblivious and apathetic it is so frustrating.

#24 Comment By Human? On February 17, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

We took in our mid-twenties nephew. He has undiagnosed social anxiety disorder and disappears into his phone at every opportunity. He is smart, thoughtful, and caring but somehow, the allure of the machine is just too attractive. We don’t know why. Is it the fear of making friends IRL (as the kids might say)? Is it a deep connection with his friends online? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because he is so caught up in it, his life, his youth, is slipping by and he is completely unaware. It is so sad to watch. We thought he would move in, get a job, and move on, much like we did when we were in our twenties. I mean really, who wants to sit in your mother’s or your aunt’s home instead of making friends, and lovers, and your own life? Just so sad to watch. And we feel so powerless to do anything.

#25 Comment By soundranger On February 18, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

I teach music in a great Norcal private college prep. Since 1983, I have introduced thousands of educators, students and districts to the benefits that PC technology could bring to the classroom. I have stacks of thank-yous from educators who harnessed this power in service to great learning.
What we are experiencing these days has little to do with the early strides we made up until 2000.
As long as computers were standalone devices full of cool software for scientific visualization, music, graphic manipulation, publishing and information retrieval, all was on an upward path.
…Then the ethernet port showed up on the motherboard and it all went out the window. Not saying that www isn’t wonderful but
Where Steve J and Steve W. were supplying “bicycles for the mind” this new breed of Internet titans are only those interested in “buy cycles and what’s mine”
It’s now a world of clickbait, or masturba…(sorry) and as many of you have stated, our children are in the crosshairs.
I’m thankfully(?) old enough to know that social media is not my friend. ‘Virtual communities’ have obvious power and have considerable potential to improve our world but that refers to adults, not children.
My current class of freshman/sophomores demonstrate an almost pathological inability to put down their phones during class–music class!
I have to be careful though: One day I was getting ready to come down on a student for using her phone in class and she reminded me “I have my lyrics for our song here on the phone..”
So much for hard-coded attitudes. Enjoy the ride colleagues.

#26 Comment By Annie On March 8, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

I homeschool. We don’t own a tv, but we do own 3 computers, a tablet and 2 smartphones. We’re also self-employed. We have a very strict no-screens policy with our children. However, when both grandmothers come to visit (one is 65 and the other is 72), both of them are on their phones. One more than the other, but it is still a problem. My husband and I have strict rules for our own use. The technology is mainly for the business and coordination of schedules, but still…”Grandmothers, put the phone down and spend time with your grandkids.”

#27 Comment By Andrea Fabry On March 9, 2016 @ 9:58 pm

I recently got rid of my smartphone. I downsized to a simple flip phone for emergencies. I can’t expect my kids to get media in balance if I’m on my device all the time. Best decision I’ve made for my brain and peace of mind. I’ll never go back.