At the end of last year The New York Times ran a series of stories about the impact of technology on our minds. Times contributors Erik Olsen and Matt Richtel address how technology is changing how youth think.
Richtel says, “We are only beginning to understand how these technologies condition young people to expect immediate gratification and constant stimulation and give them a kind of intoxication that comes from getting constant bursts of information.”
The challenge for modern parents and educators is this: How do we teach the value of applying ourselves in an instant-gratification culture?
Step #1: Understanding Technology – It’s not just about bad content
Often the concern about technology is the content it brings into our life: sex on TV, porn on the Internet, violence in video games, lyrics in music. These are certainly worthy of our concern, but they are not the only thing that should grab our attention.
Increasingly people are more and more concerned about the prevalence of technology itself. How does using highly interactive, visually stimulating, and multitasking-oriented devices change the way our brains function?
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, says, “The technology is rewiring our brains.” She compares digital stimulation to food and sex: great in moderation but counterproductive in excess.
Larry Rosen, PhD., a social media researcher at California State University, has found many positive and healthy benefits to using sites like Facebook, but he cautions against over-use. Some teens who are absorbed in sites like Facebook can not only become self-absorbed, but also anti-social, anxious, and less engaged in school.
Step #2: Taking a Technology Sabbath – Unplug to Unwind
Do not underestimate the value of unplugging from technology. There is a value in balancing online and offline life, setting time limits, and then choosing to stimulate the mind in non-technological ways.
Last year the New York Times asked its readers, “What if you unplugged from technology for a week?” While we can learn a lot from technology fasts, parents need to help their kids develop a regular habit of balancing technology use. This means encouraging other forms of entertainment and learning that don’t mean sitting in front of a screen.
Research shows the brain needs critical moments of rest, and parents need to be the pace-setters in this lifestyle of balance.
Step #3: Using Technology That Teaches
What matters most are the choices made by parents to encourage “a balanced pattern of consumption,” says the authors of the Sesame Workshop report, Always Connected. They call parents to monitor their child’s “media diet” when they are still young. What are your children watching on TV and online? Is their media time mostly intentional learning time, or recreational and entertainment-based?
Schools and parents alike are recognizing the value of technology for learning. While computers can be a great distraction from learning, they can also become the great ally.
The key to this is, of course, not replacing forms of traditional education with technology, but using technology to supplement the learning process.