Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

16 November 2017

The Death of Us - How We Sell Out Our Kids

Opinion: The death of us — how we sell out our kids
by CALVIN WHITE, Opinion, vancouversun.com, 10 September 2017

Our chidren's world is the one they relate to on their
gadgets.  NAM Y. HUH / AP
We are in the vortex of an epidemic, and a generation is dying. But you won’t read a Centre for Disease Control or Public Health announcement declaring it so. At least not until it’s too late. While fentanyl deservedly gets the acute alarm that growing numbers of corpses usually evokes, the non-physical and less-quantifiable mental and emotional dying of our young from the addictive relationship with technology receives a shrug of the shoulders. One reason is that with fentanyl we don’t insist on studies or research to prove anything because our direct experience overrides that academic routine. Another reason is because the dying is bit by bit in terms of intellectual and emotional functioning rather than a less-deniable physical atrophy.

Yet a far more pernicious reason is because of ubiquitous adult complicity. For adults — and all the parents and educators — the excitement and allure of the various forms of electronic gadgetry plays out in a context of already having formed their personalities and already having gone through brain development during the era when the electronic offerings were more primitive. Adult brains and psyches got to develop more or less situated within a full panorama of the real world. The teenagers of today and each age group to follow have grown up not with that same interface, but instead immersed in the gadget insular world.

That insular world has powerful components that dramatically alter and impede full development.

Adults are excited about technology, and love to refer to it as a “tool”. This latter is how educators betray their students while disavowing their own daily recognitions. Schools are direct dealers in the supply line of the technology drug. They guarantee the public stays blind or in their own denial. They guarantee that the kids will not get the awareness nor support needed to kick the addiction. They bring in the “tools” and through their own modeling, normalize the relationship.

Teachers, counselors, and administrators witness every day the relationship kids have with their technology.

They directly know that only the smallest fraction of users are doing so “responsibly” with “moderation”. They know that the “tool” they allow in their buildings results in distraction, false drama, compulsivity, and superficiality all under a permissive guise of speed and ease of access to information. They know that the actual “knowledge” which students access so easily is often at best like fishing for a marlin in a lake. The knowledge they get is trivial, spotty, or partial because it comes without filtering, without source vetting, and without balance. Of course, there are a small percentage of exceptional students who do dive into the actual tool quality of the technology, but it is absurd that this 10 per cent should determine our depiction of reality.

In the lived reality of our kids, the plastic world at their fingertips is at least as important as the real world around them because of the illusion of control and because the world within their gadgets is real to them.

Our kids grow up with a constant stream of content. Facebook and YouTube and other social media are non-stop.

Every hour of every day there is something new to engage with. This inundation of content becomes the knowledge of today. This flow of input is not only non-stop but it is abbreviated and quick. This is where the dying comes in. The quickness, the lack of fullness and the brevity of everything they encounter patterns their developing brains to that relationship with meaning and knowledge. In other words, they have lost or are losing the capacity to distinguish what is important. If it takes time to digest a concept, and if the concept is complex, if there are too many references to other information, then our kids are lost and tune out. Page one is as far as they go.

The continuous flow of “knowledge” and “news” into their social media accounts has rendered them unable to discern what matters, what has depth and vital importance to their own lives, and what doesn’t. Everything has equal value and nothing has lasting impact. This is the age of no truth, no meaning.

One of the commonest refrains from school classrooms is: “It’s boring.” Discussion is boring, depth is boring, complexity makes something boring. Having to think too hard or reason for too long equates to boring. A documentary, a book, an article, even a movie devoid of explosions and special effects that lasts too long becomes boring. Engagement has to be the same speed and length as the YouTube clips, the tweets, the Instagram and Facebook postings that their brains have been patterned in all their brief lives.

Complexity, challenging ideas that take time to fully get, that need pondering and reflection, information or research that demands criticism is being met by brains unaccustomed and unprepared in this function.

Think about this: Our kids are losing the ability to think deeply or for a sustained period. They are losing the capacity for contemplation, critical analyses, serious reflection. The speed and continuousness of the interaction with their gadgets means no developing of insight, no need to wonder or imagine, no training in extended, complex debate. The flat screen of the technology replaces the developing of the multi-dimensional screen within young brains. The gadget does it all for the user.

When adults insist on seeing our technology as “tools” for our time in which a vaster world can be accessed, they are not putting themselves in the child’s shoes. Just think of how all humans until now have grown up and learned to be social beings and to become functioning adults. We did this process by flesh to flesh contact, replete with all of the full spectrum texture of non-verbal nuances, face to face emotionality sharing.

This was our learning modality from birth to adulthood. We modeled, we learned about compromise and negotiation, we developed empathy, and we wondered actively about ourselves. All this flesh-to-flesh interaction allowed us to grow more comfortable in our own skin. The minds and characters and awareness of our children are in the process of developing without this; theirs is the electronic basis. Their world is the one they relate to on their gadgets. Technological babies grow up with parents on their phones and iPads and get handed their technology while still in the stroller.

Calvin White holds a master of education in counselling psychology and is author of The Secret Life of Teenagers and Letters from the Land of Fear.


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