Louis C.K. is a successful comedian who can afford to buy his kids practically anything. So it is a refreshing surprise to learn that there is one thing for which he refuses to open his wallet: cell phones for his children.
"I think these things are toxic, especially for kids," insists the comic during a recent appearance on Conan.
"They don't look at people when they talk to them and they don't build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it's 'cause they're trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, 'you're fat' and then they see the kid's face scrunch up and they go, 'oh, that doesn't feel good to make a person do that.' But when they write 'you're fat' then they just go, 'mmm, that was fun, I like that.'"
Bingo. Comedians can be modern-day philosophers and Louis C.K. has brilliantly nailed it. This touted technology is riddled with problems, especially in the hands of still-developing children and teens.
In one case, four students at Century Middle School in Lakeville, MN were charged with crimes after allegedly taking and sharing inappropriate photos of fellow classmates undressing in the locker room. The pictures were reportedly shared with at least 40 people thanks to the genius of rapid technology.
Just this month, a 12-year-old girl was convicted of a felony in Harris County, TX after taking a photo of another student in the school locker room. Witnesses claim the girl taunted the other student with the photo but eventually deleted it.
The picture was not shared with anyone, but the budding photojournalist now has a criminal record.
Then there is the very tragic case of Rehtaeh Parsons.
The Dartmouth, NS teen was allegedly gang raped by four boys while she lay unconscious. Even this catastrophic crime was not enough to break the 15-year-old girl.
Arguably, it was the cyber bullying and Facebook taunts that followed which took their toll after someone allegedly shared a picture of Parsons being raped. The photo spread quickly throughout her small town and Parsons was left to deal with the aftermath of other students calling her a "slut" and some even requesting to have sex with the teenager. The fact that the RCMP initially concluded there was insufficient evidence to lay charges culminated in Parsons taking her own life.
Teenagers have always been stupid. They have always done foolish things. The trouble now is that they have the power to capture that stupidity and have no appreciation for the permanency of the Internet or the way information ripples through the world wide web.
Technology can also be used to passively harm others. In fact, I see it all the time when I visit the neighbourhood park with my children. One young girl sits sadly on a motionless swing, begging dad for a push. But the father is completely engaged with his cellphone and cannot be bothered to glance up, let alone get up.
Another child dangles from the monkeybars and cries out for help. Yet another just wants mum to watch him go down the slide.
Sadly, too many parents are missing out on these opportunities to connect with their children because they choose to be connected to their cell phones instead.
"You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away...the ability to just sit there," warns Louis C.K.
"That's being a person."
"I look around, pretty much 100 per cent of the people driving are texting. And they're killing. Everybody's murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don't want to be alone for a second..."
The comedian turned philosopher shows how ridiculous many of us have become with the proliferation of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
"Uh oh, I'm getting sad. I've got to get the phone and write 'hi' to like 50 people," he quips.
In this age where people have hundreds of online "Friends" and are constantly connected to their bevy of contacts, are we merely alienating those who know us IRL?
This piece originally appeared in The Hamilton Spectator