Have you and your family gone screen-free for a week yet? Have you taken the challenge? As some would suggest, getting away from technology is key to re-establishing relationships, freeing the mind, and even repairing the soul.
I propose that we also institute appliance-free week. You know, no refrigerators, dishwashers, mixers, washing machines, dryers, or air conditioners. I think it would help people learn how to work together, to rediscover the more traditional way of doing things, to build family trust and self-reliance. Plus, it would be good for the kids!
Screen-free week campaigns are stupid. They suggest that since our society uses a lot of technology, and since technology is inherently bad for us, that we should set aside one week a year (or more often, depending on who is prescribing), to prove that it’s possible, and to realize the many benefits. Then, presumably, you can go back to the way you used to do things, guilt-free, because you have proven you CAN if you HAVE TO.
All of this seems very artificial. It seems to offer a disease and then offer a cure. Screen-free week campaigns are the brainchildren of concerned citizens who know there are dangers to too much screen/technology time, and want you to be aware of them. However, they represent a decidedly anti-screen, anti-technology ideology These movements are, as almost all social movements are, grounded in logic. The basic tenet, that too much screen time can be detrimental to people, especially youth, is inherently sensible. Few would disagree, and I certainly don’t propose anything to question this. However the notion is a bit more than simply awareness. it is part of the demonization of technology underlying much of our polite society.
Technology backlash has predicted everything from mindless, robotic youth to the fall of western civilization itself. The problem with most of these movements is the presumption that consumption of technology equals abuse. Let’s take a look at a recent study that has earned a lot of attention lately:
RESULTS: Forty caregivers used devices during their meal. The dominant theme salient to mobile device use and caregiver–child interaction was the degree of absorption in devices caregivers exhibited. Absorption was conceptualized as the extent to which primary engagement was with the device, rather than the child, and was determined by frequency, duration, and modality of device use; child response to caregiver use, which ranged from entertaining themselves to escalating bids for attention, and how caregivers managed this behavior; and separate versus shared use of devices. Highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehavior. –Journal of American Pediatrics
The article itself is interesting, but it spawned hundreds of news bits and helpful posts regarding parenting. It is not uncommon to use words like addiction, obsession and neglect along the way of summarizing the article in a way to make it clear that technology is the culprit. The general perception, then, is that cell phones are bad.
Can we consider that some parents are not very attentive to children, and the device is irrelevant? In my youth, adults frequently admonished and sometimes severely punished children who bothered someone who was reading the newspaper or watching a television show. I am not entirely sure, but I doubt there was a social concern over parents’ reading of the newspaper in the presence of children. That is not to say that it made one a good parent, they just didn’t blame the existence of the newspaper.
As technology advances in our society, alarmists see the disruptive nature of technology as the source of all sorts of ills, while rarely considering the notion that technology brings different ways for some of the same ills to manifest themselves. What if it were the person using the technology who is to blame?
Some questions I feel need consideration:
- Why is a child’s time building with Legos valued far greater by some than the same time building with Minecraft?
- Why does a teen who spends hours chatting away on the phone seem typical, but those same hours on social media seem frivolous and dangerous?
- A child who reads books for hours is applauded, yet a child who accesses information on a computer draws concern.
- Why are textbooks still seen as more academically important than tablets?
- Why is whiling the time away watching television more socially acceptable than whiling the same time away playing a video game?
- Why is a parent thumbing through a magazine while her child plays at the park considered normal, even pleasant, yet if the parent thumbs through the same magazine on a phone or tablet, they seem to be neglectful?
In truth, some parents are neglectful. Some children get too immersed in social media. Some children play video games too long. Some students may get overwhelmed with distractions. This is about the person, not the technology. Most of the time, modern technology is a replacement. People surf the net rather than watching television. They use social media rather than talking on the phone. Excess in anything can be detrimental. We just need to make sure we are demonizing the behavior, and not looking to scapegoat the behavior with the technology.
Technology is like a hammer, it can be a tool or a weapon. It all depends on who is wielding it.
If your family needs a screen-free week, by all means, do so of your own choosing. But make sure it’s because everyone in the family could use a break from technology, and not because the anti-screen movement has convinced you that technology is bad. Kids need to use less technology? Perhaps. Determine a problem and solve it. Not enough exercise? Yup, that’s a problem. Deal with that problem. Grades slipping at school? Yeah, that’s a problem. Deal with it. Family uses a lot of technology? Not inherently a problem. Might be a strength.
Need to unplug? Go camping and make it an experience. If a family uses too much technology to the point that relationships are strained, then it is stupid to think that one week off will solve the problem. If you need to make a change so you are more available to your children, then do it! You don’t need a contrived challenge week to do so.
Denying the family some technology that is part of ordinary American life, simply to see if it is difficult, is foolish. It would be even more difficult to go appliance-free, and I think we would find ourselves quite dependent on those types of technology without demonizing them. Don’t let screen-free week or any other techno-shame drive your decisions. Use common sense and identify real problems and deal with them with real solutions. Let’s just keep some perspective.