The world has changed overnight. In the briefest blink of an eye our ability to communicate with each other has expanded. Smart phones, iPads, and evolving social networks have embedded all of us within each other. It might sound good to some, and certainly the potential for revolutionary global change has never been higher, but there are significant problems as well. These are powerful technologies and they are breaking things as fast as they are fixing them. Consider personal boundaries? Do these even still exist? Text messages in the middle of the night, messaging with a friend while having dinner with the family, open access 100 percent of the time. No down time, no relaxation, and no respite. Connected all the time. Questions emerge. Is this causing psychological problems for people? Psychopathology is often founded on the violation of personal boundaries. We might be able to have more relationships now, but what about the quality? Are the 400 superficial network “likes” on Facebook any substitute for one or two close intimate relationships? Can we replace the empty and damaged quality of our modern life with quantity? The people making the money on the technologies obviously want to say yes to this question. It’s all about connection they say. But you can’t listen to them, they just want to sell more devices, and like all good capitalists, they won’t talk about the dark side of the thing they sell.
And it is not just the boundary less superficiality that has been wrought upon us that we must question, devices are dangerous. Teens (most recently Amanda Todd) are now the victims of brutal cyber bullying. These same teens are dealing with so much emotional pain that killing themselves sounds better than a lifetime of suffering. Not that bullying didn’t exist before, but its’ different now. When I was bullied as a child I knew the locations where it occurred (school yard, back alley), and I could avoid that. In the boundary less world of modern devices there is no escape (). When bullying and paedophiles can reach directly into your home, there is no sanctuary. As a social scientist I have a hypothesis, teen suicides are going to go up in the next few years unless we do something about the problem right now.
And what should we do? Well the first thing we have to do is forget the hype and see through to the reality of what we are dealing with. Advertising portrays the new devices as part of a safe, exciting, and entertaining new world of beauty and wonder, but the truth is these technologies are dangerous. Putting a smart phone into the hand of an emotionally defenceless child/adolescent without training them, or without understanding the dangers yourself, is like handing a teenager a 10,000 volt power line and saying , here kid, have some fun. If the kid makes a mistake and ends up dead, who should we hold responsible? The kid, the power company, or the person who handed the wire to them in the first place? If you ask me, primarily the power company for not making it clear to the parent the danger of giving the kid the 10,000 volt power line. Of course, power companies go out of their way to ensure people know the dangers of high voltage power, device companies not so much. People who make devices aren’t going to talk about Amanda Todd, Kristen Stewart, the high levels of radiation or anything else that would jeopardize sales. They just want to sell as many devices and they can, so they’ll be totally silent about any dangers involved.
The second thing we have to do is educate and just say no. As educators we can discuss the dangers of social technology, and as parents we can simply keep the technology out of the hands of our children. There is nothing in the parental rule book that says children or teenagers must have these new technologies. In fact, quite the contrary, we should never let our children have access to technologies they are not ready to handle properly. We can lament The System and the misleading advertising all we want, but it comes down to us as parents and educators to do something about it. If our kids can’t use new devices in a friendly, responsible, and non-violent manner, they are simply not ready. As parents it it is our job to judge whether our children are ready, not the phone company, not other parents, and not our kids themselves. Of course, putting the foot down may be difficult for many. Parents themselves are often addicted to these new devices, substituting superficial social contact for deep interpersonal relationships with their family, and in those cases it will be hard to put a limit around a behaviour that is modelled in the home. There is also parental guilt to consider. Many parents don’t spend the time or attention on their children that their children need and as a result, they feel guilty. They assuage this guilt by buying things for their kids. Advertisers know this and tap into this, making parents feel like getting the latest device, or purchasing that happy meal, can actually make up for their failure in other areas. But it doesn’t. Doing that just compounds emotional and psychological problems and makes the failures worse. So, I suppose, in the end, it comes down to choice. Do what everybody else is doing and reap the rewards of your actions, or take control of things in your life. Pay attention, analyse and act to fix what needs to be fixed. It’s the only way forward and the only way to avoid the inevitable and tragic denouement of the socially unexamined life space.
Mike Sosteric (Dr. S.)