Last week in The Zen of Flying I described the stresses that we all go through when we have to fly anywhere. I often fly alone and because my son and I never flew together until he was in his teens, I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be to fly with one or two toddlers. More often than not the over-excitement of perhaps their first adventure into the air quickly turns to tears and frustration as they realise that they are not immune from the long queues and security checks, or endlessly told that they must stay strapped into a boring seat for those endless hours of childhood. So we are no longer surprised to see parents hand over iPads or other similar device once a plane is airborne.
However, what did come as a shock last week was the scale of the tantrum launched by a four year old in the seat in front of me simply because her mother had had the audacity to take the tablet away, after a stewardess insisted because we were landing at Bodrum airport. At one point I worried that the child might actually burst the vein that had suddenly appeared at the side of her face during the screaming fit, which lasted all the way through the arrivals lounge and out to a tourist coach, which I thanked my lucky stars I was not getting onto.
Of course the mothers parenting skills could and maybe should be called into question, but perhaps that is an oversimplification? What I got a sense of was almost like an addict being denied their fix, be it heroin, alcohol or nicotine. So when I read only yesterday that a whole generation of youngsters are becoming so reliant on their devices that they can eventually display the classic signs of a serious addiction, I was not in the least surprised.
By the age of seven, a child born in Europe or the USA will have spent an entire year (8,766 hours) of their lives looking at computer, TV and game console screens. By 13, it will be three whole years. So is it any wonder that recognised conditions like Facebook Depression and Cyber-bullying are on a steep upward curve as well as other more established problems caused by the sedentary effect of long periods of inactivity beyond typing at a keyboard or how child peer pressure can lead to increased blood pressure and extreme behavioural problems.
Is this a new thing? Surely someone somewhere would have looked into this? Seemingly not is the industry wide reply because for all the billions spent on research and development, none of the big boys like Apple, Microsoft, Google et al. have ever admitted that their products have a negative addictive affect… really? Nothing? Although when pressed on the matter you may occasionally get a high placed company exec to admit that there may be a problem but they have insufficient information to make that call. This is a little like the owner of a field of opium poppies telling us that they are simply growing the flowers for display purposes only and although they have heard that there may be some people out there, who use their poppies in another way, which ultimately destroys thousands of lives – it is simply hearsay as no one has formally made them aware of such a problem.
Of course most research (although we are told there is very little) would have been carried out by industry insiders, who ultimately decide what information is and isn’t released to the public domain. So no problem with that closed circle of control then? Why would they tell us there is a massive problem being stored up for society and the way society works if it will affect their bottom line profit?
If you don’t believe there is a problem (because no one at Apple or Microsoft has told you so) then ask the top executives of those and other IT companies, why most of them severely restrict the use of devices in their own children and perhaps more importantly, where they send their own children to school? Because the really odd thing is that most of them send their kids to schools, where phones and devices are actually banned. Why is that? How exactly have they come to the conclusion that this is the best way forward for their own kids, when all along they are spending millions on marketing to other peoples kids, whose heads are now rarely raised from one screen or other, be it at the dinner table, in front of the TV, in their rooms and oh yes in their school playgrounds?
At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in California’s Silicon Valley, where devices are strictly banned, at least three quarters of the children there are from families, where one or both parents work as top end managers and executives within the digerati – at the likes of ebay, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple… why exactly is that?
In conclusion I am not leaping from some Luddite closet with the intention of telling the world that all technology is bad or suggesting we go back to the time of pre-technical age teaching. All I am saying is that everything has its right time and that using iPads and phones to distract or babysit your kids is simply storing up problems for the future. Childhood is a very important time, where socialisation and things like sharing and learning to use your own imagination through play that doesn’t involve small characters being chased across computer screens by monsters or bad monkeys, is very important.
So let your kids be kids while they still can, because all the technology in the world will be waiting for them when they are older and able to understand that there is much more to life than computer games, your Facebook or Twitter friends or followers count and perhaps the most important fact of all – that their devices do actually have an off switch.