We live in a time now where you just have to walk down a street, ride the train or ‘people watch’ in a café to notice that no one notices! What we all seem to be noticing is whatever is on the screen of our phone … heads are down and eyes are transfixed on the imagery projected from a screen. Is this having any effect on children, or on childhood itself? Is technology somehow interrupting childhood as we know it, and if so – is it a problem?
Of course, many people will say that for every technology introduced to a society there have always been people who would reject it – thinking that it would cause dismay to society. There are those who despised the radio, were deeply concerned with air travel and were dismayed with television. And yet, when we look back we all feel okay – most of these technologies impacted on our lives in a positive way, and where there is a negative, well we just adapt as humans – we become more evolved.
The problem with this thinking as it relates to devices, is that never before have we had such a powerful technology become so prolific in such a short space of time. A technology that interacts with you, can take you beyond your current environment and submerse you in a community. Facebook is only 12 years old and it already has 1.72 billion users – amazing!
Over 13.4 million Australians spend an average of 18.8 hours a day online. Smartphone technology has snowballed so swiftly – it feels like we may not have stopped to think about the aftermath of such a change.
If everything else has been disrupted, surely childhood has too?
Device technology has definitely disrupted the adult world – the taxi industry with Uber and the hotel industry with Air BnB and higher education with Coursera. Adults shop online, we bank online, we book cinema and concerts online, we pay bills online, edit photos online and book holidays online, we don’t need to remember phone numbers any more nor do we need to remember birthdays, we book and buy flowers online, we date online, we marry online, we breakup online!
When you think about it, these socially connected machines with its social media have influenced how we behave, interact, communicate, fall in love, and converse – we periodically redesign ourselves and curate our lives like the curator of an art gallery as we seek to collect admiring fans, followers and more friends.
If everything in adulthood has changed so much through devices – then isn’t it plausible that childhood itself has also been disrupted too?
So, how has device technology redefined, disrupted, altered or influenced the childhood that children of today are experiencing?
1. It has redefined what it means to have friends and connections.
Connection today has been redefined by a hyperlink BUT a link that connects your page to mine doesn’t mean that we have a relationship, does it? Yet among young people there is an emphasis on the number of ‘friends, fans or followers’, they have as they tally up their self-worth based on the number of these ‘connections’ and how many like, comment on, or love their post. A hyperlink bares no resemblance to the deeper rapport associated with friendship and connection and this concept is quickly being distorted for kids.
“I have over 1000 friends, but there is no way I would trust them though. You can’t really trust anybody because it could end up online…”
2. It has redefined the rules surrounding privacy.
Once upon a time privacy meant something, it was an unspoken rule that some things were sacred, moments were moments and how we felt and presented our self in any given situation was for those with whom the moment was shared. It was our business and our choice. Today privacy is little more than a word embedded in the terms and conditions that we agree to when we open our social media account or better yet, a diversion tactic when your teenager refuses to show you their Instagram posts. Yet this oxymoronic idea of privacy online is the space that our children divulge everything!
“I always tell my parents they are invading my privacy so they just leave me alone.”
3. It has redefined what it means ‘to play’.
To ‘play’ used to mean occupying yourself in a compelling manner or interacting with other people in real life where you would laugh and hug, imagine, tickle, punch, run and engage in your environment. Play was an activity you engaged in where you were incidentally stimulated mentally, physically, emotionally and creatively. Where children would physically produce spontaneous cause-and-effect experiences. Today play is reduced to the finite movement of our ten digits and two eyeballs! More and more, play is a ‘passivity’ children engage in
“We don’t do anything in my family. My mum tells me to go and play but I have no idea what I am supposed to do!”
4. It has redefined language and literacy.
Instead of teaching the importance of word structure and spelling we have laid down a red carpet for abbreviated language as child text talkers have carved their abbreviated terms into dictionaries, redefining what is now acceptable. OMG, you may think to yourself, IDC & IDEK TBH! (Oh my god, I don’t care and I don’t even know, to be honest).
What happened to structured language and is it really important? Is their any value gained from spelling, sentence structure, reading and meaning? Does it matter when kids do not have the words to express themselves? WBU, WDYT?
Surely spelling, reading and writing are still essential educational tools. When you have available in your mind a plethora of words, expressions and terms, each with their own implications causing ideas to extend, and thoughts to expand – then surely this is still of value?
“We text in acronyms so that no one knows what we are saying.”
5. It has redefined the emphasis on what is real and true.
In the online and social media world anyone can be a journalist, a photographer, a videographer. Anyone can be a self-proclaimed ‘world guru’ or ‘expert authority’ and children can find their fame online for producing very little. With these powerful tools you can redefine yourself to be what you want to be or who you think you ought to be in order to be liked, loved, and followed.
In the online world it’s hard to know what’s real. “Is that your authentic self, published online?”, and “can I rely on your purported attributes to be an accurate reflection of you?”. Gosh! What a strain it is for children to have to sift through layer upon layer of filters in order to find the real person and a true friend … if that even means anything anymore!
“I always lie about what I do, you have to be cool otherwise people won’t rate you”.
6. It has redefined the way we engage in our environment.
Our senses love natural environments with organic smells. We’re built to interact with our environment and the elements, we process the world through our senses. From childhood we are equipped to scale heights, jump widths and swim depths. We have faculties to move, run, leap, bound, splash, flip and dance. Children naturally love engaging with the outdoors, feeling free to roam, hurtling down the road on a scooter. Being alert, aware and awake stimulates them! It exercises them, and challenges their senses.
Technology seems to be reducing the degree to which children engage with their environment. More and more, reality is reduced to digital simulation and children are not developing their senses in a natural environment. Who would have thought that childhood could be experienced with very little outdoor engagement.
“I spend most Saturdays watching YouTube videos and movies on my tablet. I constantly check out what other people are doing in their lives – just so I know how I’m doing in mine”.
7. It has redefined the notion of personal and social boundaries.
You never know when your moment of fame might happen – YOU could be the unwitting star of the next viral meme, vine or YouTube video! Unknown to you, someone took a photo or video when you were in the mall or packing groceries into your car. Children today commonly post imagery and footage of people they know or strangers, without permission.
Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation with a teenager and lose them to their phone? What happened to social niceties and boundaries? They tag, forward, share, gossip and reveal personal details of themselves and others online without realising the possible consequences.
Personal and social boundaries are tools to help children adapt to certain situations – it helps them to not offend others or humiliate themselves. Enter technology … it seems children are learning their social graces from what’s deemed acceptable behaviour online and not in the real world.
“Boys at my school have whole catalogue of girls on their phone that they forward on to mates.”
8. It has redefined what respect and social graces mean.
Gaining ratings is key and people seem to do the craziest things to get attention. Capture selfies, show more cleavage, reveal your buttocks and keep the pout – because you will be sure to gain the ‘likes’ you desire. Is self-respect important anymore? It seems like the Kim Kardashian persona has set the new benchmark for the image young girls should aspire too. But someone forgot to tell them that it’s a celebrity persona, not a daily style code. Is social etiquette being altered by prolific online usage because it feels like it’s all about “me” with no more consideration for “you”? Social media provides an ideal platform to purport an overzealous ego and has made personal publicity an every-day habit, where ‘anything goes’ to get a ‘like’.
“Girls are the worst, they clog up your feed with constant selfies. Who even cares especially if they aren’t hot. It’s bad form to do that so you just take one of their photos, distort it and repost!”
9. It has redefined for our youth – what it means to be ‘me’.
For generations, tweens and teens have felt they had to be like the next person. They need to own the same brand, have the same hairstyle and do the same activities – they need to be the same. What feels different for children of today is the rate of homogenization of their generation. When man-made machinations are used to facilitate dialogue, communication and relationships – it removes the uniqueness of these experiences.
Today, it seems conversations are curated, mulled over and responses are delayed with reduced immediacy of a true laugh out loud moment! Those surprising ways that expose how we are all unique become uniformed, diluted and the question of what it means to truly be ‘me’ for many teenagers is something they feel they are missing.
“I have more friends online, I’m funnier and I get lots of likes.”
Adding up the sum of this disruption, what does it equal?
To date, there is not yet enough research and studies to understand the true impact. What we can go on are the testimonies and anecdotes we hear from children and parents about how they ‘feel’ in this world. When a teenager tells you that they have no idea what the concept of ‘privacy’ means – outside of a setting on a device – then one must wonder …
“Help I’m a parent of a deviceKid!”
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