Emily, 13, wakes up and rolls over to kiss her smartphone good-morning. Not an actual smooch, naturally, but a virtual kiss of attention, a kiss of grazing fingertips as she calls up 34 missed messages. The swarms of comforting "contacts" deliver new material -- texts about a sleepover, photos of Slurpees, links to new cat videos -- and the possible solitude of the morning is banished. The question that drives her is not "what shall I do today?" The question (more passive) is: "what did I miss?"
Emily is not extraordinary. In fact she's typical: nobody texts more than girls aged 13-17; the latest research from Pew found their median number of texts each day is 100, in fact -- double the number that folk just 10 years older manage. Our teens are not alone in the digital morass, of course; we're all swimming in new oceans of content: we upload 100 hours of YouTube video for every minute of the so-called "real life" we live; we produce 6,000 tweets per second. Indeed, it's estimated that more than 90 per cent of all the data out there was created in these last few years. And, for the first time, parents can know that their children will have more interactions with avatars than with warm-blooded people.
We're all part of the matrix now. Yet there is still a crucial difference between teenagers like Emily and the rest of us. Anyone my age and older (I'm 34) can still remember life before we went online, life before the digital maelstrom. My peers and I are the last folk in history who will ever know life both with and without the Internet. That means we have a certain duty to transmit our pre-Internet history to Emily and her set. For Emily and all the billions who come next, the Internet will simply be the air they breathe -- and the air is difficult to notice.
I believe the most crucial thing we need to teach digital natives is how to be alone. When Emily turns 18 and backpacks through Europe, she will text with her boyfriend dozens of times each day. For that matter, she won't ever get lost in the streets of Paris because her phone will constantly track her, monitor her, with a mother-hen GPS. She and all her peers will never experience a true, sustained absence.
Of course, by the time she's 18, Emily won't be interested in hearing about the fuzzy values of solitude and daydreaming and reverie. Like a type two diabetic, she'll have a system that's been irrevocably altered by years of mismanaged media diet. Which is why we need to tackle the problem in advance. Yes, every communication technology -- from papyrus to the printing press to Pinterest -- brought us great gifts; they also led us away from earlier frames of mind. And, in the case of the Internet and smartphones, that may leave us with impoverished interior lives.
And this is not just history as usual, either. When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450, the Reformation and Enlightenment that his machine helped to usher in took centuries to roll out. Our lives, by contrast, are instantly and expansively reimagined within a single generation. This is truly a Gutenberg Moment rather than an era.
We've never before had folk on both sides of a communication revolution butting up against each other so closely. And I think it's a fantastic opportunity. It means we have the chance to preserve those moments of solitude that are in danger of becoming extinct -- pass them on to the next generation.
In these few summer weeks before school returns, and with it the cyberbullying and manic communication, too -- the tweeting, the texting, the Snapchats and Instagrams -- will we engineer for our children some small experience of being alone?
Emily's day is filling up. She's showered and eaten breakfast, and dipped 17 times into her network of 1,437 "contacts" before plunking the cereal bowl in the dishwasher. If we engineer moments of solitude for her -- and yes, that means taking the phone away not as punishment but because it's simply good for her -- she will complain, she will whine, she may even freak out. Addicts do that.
I did that myself when I abstained from the Internet and my mobile for a full month last year. I called it my Analogue August -- it was tough, it was lonely, and I'm so, so glad I did it. (God knows I wouldn't have gotten to know my neighbourhood otherwise; and I wouldn't have finally finished War & Peace, either.)
Maybe the only way to prove to our children that a little solitude (a little digital abstinence) is healthy will be to model the behaviour ourselves, after all. A shoebox full of cellphones, up atop the fridge? A pledge from the whole family to take one weekend off from the Internet this August?
Here's the thing: being alone -- really learning to love solitude -- becomes so much easier if we're raised in a household that expects occasional solitude, that encourages and praises it. We may need examples of aloneness in order to really break away from that crowded digital culture; we may need parents modelling solitude if we want children to develop those rich interior lives.
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Teens and Technology" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Fully 95% of teens are online, a percentage that has been consistent since 2006. Yet, the nature of teens’ internet use has transformed dramatically during that time ... Teens are just as likely to have a cell phone as they are to have a desktop or laptop computer. And increasingly these phones are affording teens always-on, mobile access to the internet — in some cases, serving as their primary point of access."
Preschoolers Can Learn Great Things From TV" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Huffington Post (to read the actual study, visit Pediatrics -- subscription required) Gist: "New research out today by Dr Christakis finds that putting our time and energy into working to improve what our children watch, not just how much they watch, can have a positive impact on their behavior -- even for children as young as 3 years of age."
Media and Violence: An Analysis of Current Research " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "While longitudinal research does allow us to speak in terms of a 'causal' relationship, it is probably more accurate and useful to think about media violence as a 'risk factor' rather than a 'cause' of violence — one variable among many that increases the risk of violent behavior among some children."
Source: Reuters (to read the actual study, visit JAMA Pediatrics -- log-in required) Gist: "[R]esearchers said the new study backs up earlier findings showing too much screen time and not enough exercise may be separate issues that parents and schools need to address independently."
How Families Interact on Facebook " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Facebook Gist: "We investigated anonymized and automatically processed posts and comments by people self-identified as parents and children to understand how conversation patterns with each other might be a bit different from those with their other friends."
Parents, Teens, and Online Privacy " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Most parents of teenagers are concerned about what their teenage children do online and how their behavior could be monitored by others. Some parents are taking steps to observe, discuss, and check up on their children’s digital footprints."
Public Supports Expanded Internet Safety Requirements to Protect Kids" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health Gist: "In this Poll, nearly two out of three adults expressed strong support for proposed COPPA updates, including requiring apps designed for kids to confirm that users are at least 13 and prohibiting apps from collecting personal information from users under age 13."
The Online Generation Gap" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Family Online Safety Institute Gist: "These surveys indicate that teens’ concerns about their online safety parallel parents’ concerns more closely than parents realize and that many teens are taking steps to protect their privacy and personal information. Nonetheless, teens suggest that parents are not as informed about what their teens do online as parents think they are, and some teens are taking risks by providing personal information to strangers online."
Children, Teens, and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "America’s teachers -- whether they are long-time classroom veterans or young, tech-savvy ones, at wealthy schools or low-income schools, public or private, elementary or high school -- surface relatively consistent concerns: Students are having issues with their attention span, writing, and face-to-face communication, and, in the experience of teachers, children’s media use is contributing to the problem. On the plus side, teachers find that young people’s facility with media is helping them find information quickly and multitask more effectively."
How Teens Do Research in the Digital World" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Three-quarters of AP [Advanced Placement] and NWP [National Writing Project] teachers say that the internet and digital search tools have had a 'mostly positive' impact on their students’ research habits, but 87% say these technologies are creating an 'easily distracted generation with short attention spans' and 64% say today’s digital technologies 'do more to distract students than to help them academically.'"
Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "Three out of four teens have social networking sites, and half of all teens are on their sites on a daily basis. But despite our concerns about social media, in the vast majority of cases, these media do not appear to be causing great tumult in teenagers’ lives."
Teens, Smartphones and Texting: Texting Volume Is Up While Frequency of Voice Calling Is Down" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user. The frequency of teens' phone chatter with friends - on cell phones and landlines - has fallen. But the heaviest texters are also the heaviest talkers with their friends.”
Impact of an Active Video Game on Healthy Children’s Physical Activity" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: "There was no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at anytime, than children receiving the inactive video games."
Teens, Kindness And Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American Teens Navigate the New World of “Digital Citizenship”" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “As social media use has become pervasive in the lives of American teens, a new study finds that 69% of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. Still, 88% of these teens say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel to another person on the sites, and 15% report that they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior on social network sites.”
Preschool-Aged Children’s Television Viewing in Child Care Settings " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “We found that children in as many as 70% of home-based child care settings and 36% of center-based child care settings watch television daily. More importantly, when television is viewed at all, infants and children spend 2 to 3 hours watching in home-based programs and ~1.5 hours watching in center-based programs.”
Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “This updated policy statement provides further evidence that media—both foreground and background—have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years. Thus, the AAP reafﬁrms its recommendation to discourage media use in this age group. This statement also discourages the use of background television intended for adults when a young child is in the room.”
Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "Nine-month-olds spend nearly an hour a day watching television or DVDs, 5-year-olds are begging to play with their parents’ iPhones, and 7-year-olds are sitting down in front of a computer several times a week to play games, do homework, or check out how their avatars are doing in their favorite virtual worlds. Television is still as popular as ever, but reading may be beginning to trend downward. Having an accurate understanding of the role of media in children’s lives is essential for all of those concerned about promoting healthy child development: parents, educators, pediatricians, public health advocates, and policymakers, to name just a few."
Cell Phone Study ‘Misleading’: Children May Still Be At Increased Cancer Risk, Experts Say " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: The Huffington Post Gist: “[E]xperts have some serious concerns regarding the methods and conclusions of the first study evaluating the connection between cell phone radiation and brain cancer in children and teens. Not only was the study flawed, they note, but it was also financially supported by the cell phone industry.”
Children's Screen Viewing Is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “This study found that greater television and computer use was related to greater psychological difﬁculties, independent of gender, age, level of deprivation, pubertal status, and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time.”
Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: "Viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood. It seems that a similar association among television, video games, and attention problems exists in late adolescence and early adulthood."
Teens, Cell Phones and Texting: Text Messaging Becomes Centerpiece Communication " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “Fully two-thirds of teen texters say they are more likely to use their cell phones to text their friends than talk to them to them by cell phone.”
Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation Gist: “Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.”
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