Dear Technology... Time to Unplug?

Dear Technology, 

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but you’re beginning to get a bit of the cold shoulder from certain people. In fact, there was an entire day dedicated to taking a step back from you and all your representatives. It was called, National Day of Unplugging and this year it took place from March 1st to March 2nd. I participated and I must say, it was a nice break!  But don’t worry; you’ll continue to live in my pocket in the form of an iPhone most days of the year.

I know what you’re thinking; surely no one would want to participate in a day dedicated to being without you for an entire 24 hours. I can get anxious when I don’t check my phone/email every 15 minutes, so an entire day may feel intolerable. Not only do you organize my life, (we already talked about Siri’s calendar and GPS functions in my last letter to you ) but the research that proves your value is abundant. For example, you would appreciate a recent meta-analysis that thoroughly examined your effect on mathematic educationcompleted by researchers Alan Cheung and Robert Salvin. Their results were quite supportive of the benefits of your presence in K-12 classrooms, showing the application of technological methods of teaching math to have a positive effect on student achievement. 

However, before you start trying to take over for all the math teachers, let me remind you of the Online Disinhibition Effect.  The term was coined by Dr. John Suler and is used to explain the phenomenon where individuals are more likely to exhibit a lack of self-restraint when on the internet. Can you imagine a room full of impulsive high school students acting with even less inhibition? I can, it looks like the last 15 seconds of any Harlem shake video . Though having you in the classroom may be distracting at times, you have clearly enhanced students’ access to resources. You have revolutionized how we obtain information. Google has made the lives of countless students easier because with the click of a mouse the entire world is available on a tiny 15” screen. While I hesitate to admit it, many agree that your benefits to education outweigh the distractions you provide. We sometimes forget that the Internet was made available to the public first and foremost as an educational tool, not just to watch kitten videos.

Technology, the difficulty we have with you in our lives is that moderation seems to be difficult for some people, and the consequences of this become more dire the more we rely on you.  According to research, excessive TV watching during childhood and adolescence is related to antisocial behavior, aggressive personality traits, and even criminal conviction later in life! This may or may not relate to the content of what they watch. Law and Order: SVU doesalways seem to have some sort of marathon coming up.

The Nielsen 2009 statistics showed a 1.2% increase from 2008 in the amount of television Americans watched in the course of a month.  At that point, the average was about 153 hours of TV in just one month. Recent ratings showed that the average hasn’t changed (thank goodness)! Of course, that could change as soon as shark week comes back on. Seriously why is that not a year round thing? Who gets tired of sharks? They just swim, eat and sleep much like what Michael Phelps does but with less gold medals. But I digress; what has changed is the way we view our content. With tablet and smartphone use skyrocketing, TV and internet is now available at any time and in any place (assuming you’re not a Sprint customer—still not enough bars!).

Your popularity is increasing and the way we use you is evolving so much and so quickly that by the time we evaluate the current generation of children and adolescents and how their use of technology is affecting their psyche, it will be too late to reverse the impacts.

My advice to friends and clients is to chissel out some time for "cell-ibacy"— a period of your day or week for your brain to function off-line. This can be as significant as a full day, or even for a few moments when crossing the busy streets. Doing so can foster our relationship in more mindful ways. Let's be honest, we both need our space, even if we are dependent on eachother. Well, g2g ttys.