Caught in a technology trap

Generally I spend five hours a day commuting — in the car and on the train and then slogging through the streets of Manhattan in the noble cause of providing for my family and satisfying my spending habits.

I do it so Mom and the young’uns can have a hot meal on the table at night, well, most nights except when Mom doesn’t feel like cooking, and then it’s Italian combos or pizza, Chinese takeout or Wendy’s.
Five hours is a long time that could be put to better use, and I was recently feeling sorry for myself until I saw that the average teenager spends NINE hours a day watching TV, playing video games and goofing off on social media. Where do they find nine hours?

If I had nine hours to fritter away, I’d do something productive like rake the leaves in my backyard, clean out my closet or volunteer at the soup kitchen — and all that would probably only add up to six hours, which would leave me three hours to nap. I calculate you could drive to Columbus, Ohio, in nine hours, or maybe Caribou, Maine. Heck, it only takes 5 1/2 hours to fly to Los Angeles.
I’m afraid we’re raising a generation of robots who aren’t living real lives as much as digital lives in cyberspace. Their “real world” consists of video games, Instagram and fantasy TV like Game of Thrones.

A survey of 2,658 teenagers, which was conducted by Common Sense Media, an organization that monitors media use, concluded that kids spend a very large part of their day staring at screens, very often multitasking while they’re doing their homework. Instead of concentrating fully on their school work, they’re text-messaging, watching TV or listening to music.

If we humans use only 10 to 20 percent of our brains — as the popular unscientific notion maintains — then, I calculate they’re using only 5 percent doing their homework, at least the ones who do homework.

This generation prides itself on the use of technology, but I fear that technology is sucking the natural vitality out of them. I recently attended a presentation before an auditorium of college students, and the speaker, who was a very accomplished journalist, was saying some pretty important things about life and their careers, but much of her message was lost on some students who were surreptitiously text messaging instead of paying attention.
I know technology is supposed to be the key to better learning, but maybe what kids need is less technology and more undistracted thinking.
The Common Sense survey showed that two-thirds of the teenagers listen to music every day, while 58 percent watch television. And teenage boys spend an average of about an hour playing video games.
(I cringe to think their favorite form of entertainment is watching television, very often some new idiocy on MTV or a mindless reality show designed to entertain the masses.)

But let he who is without sin cast the first stone. My daughters are constantly texting, and my wife enjoys playing Scrabble on her iPad, which outside of teaching you a few bizarre words like “etaerio” and “amu,” I don’t see much use for except to avoid spending quality time with your spouse.

Technological distractions characterize life in 21st century America. Thoreau was wrong. We don’t live lives of quiet desperation; we live lives of constant distraction, and this addiction to media is transforming young people. You can see it in their eyes when you can see their eyes, when they’re not staring at their smart phones or wide screen TVs.
My daughters are such slaves to social media that sometimes I’d like to grab their phones and toss them onto I-95 to set them free and liberate them from Big Brother, Big Sister and Big Data.

I don’t want to sound like some old crank who is opposed to new and progressive ways, because before you know it, they’ll be tweeting nasty things about me, and then the thought police will break down the door and take me away in handcuffs for reprogramming.

Nevertheless, this has all the classic signs of being a cultural addiction. Think about it. Those nine hours wasted on media could be spent more productively raking their leaves or raking my leaves or reading Robert Louis Stevenson, or saying their prayers or cleaning their rooms or tutoring their siblings or arguing with their parents or playing the stock market or playing the slot machines at Foxwoods – well, maybe not that.

Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]

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