jasonbwatson

January 11, 2016

The one-eyed babysitter

Odds are good that you have heard the term “one-eyed babysitter” applied to television and, specifically, the use of television to entertain and occupy children. The amount of time children spend watching television and, now, occupied in front of other screens–computers, tablets, cell phones, etc.–is another serious side effect of the decline of marriage-based, two-parent families and the number of two-parent families in which both parents work. In January 2015, The Atlantic reported on a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers in Australia that calculated the total amount of time children were spending in front of screens of all kinds, as opposed to previous studies which focused on television or computers alone.

According to the article, “the study would suggest that many students worldwide are probably using technology much more than the recommended two-hours maximum every day.” That figure has long been the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which also recommends that children under three avoid screens completely. A March 2015 report on the BBC web site stated that children aged five to sixteen spend, on average, six and a half hours per day in front of screens, with teenage boys spending an average of eight hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ web site states, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.” Therein lies the real problem.

Any internet-capable devise puts its user a matter of a few key strokes away from accessing just about anything–and that is both good and bad. The access that we enjoy to information today provides incredible benefit and convenience. Our lives have been transformed by the ability to push a button and find the answer to virtually any question. One could easily argue that that is not always a good thing. For example, the need to memorize anything has all but disappeared. Still, the advantages offered by technology cannot be discarded. Neither, however, can the disadvantages and risks.

In a December article in WORLD on sex trafficking, Opal Singleton, training and outreach coordinator for Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, was quoted making an important observation about the risks associated with our worldwide connectedness. “Never before has there been this much competition of influences on our kids’ morals, spirituality, self-image, and sexuality,” Singleton said. “We have perfectly normal parents handing their child devices that provide access to hundreds of thousands of strangers around the globe.” Internet chat rooms, social media sites and myriad other tools, apps and web sites that make communication to easy and convenient also make it, when unfiltered, unmonitored and carelessly used, dangerous. Singleton went on, in the same article, to describe a high school senior with a 4.0 GPA who had been confronted by her mother just days before she planned to fly to Ireland to meet a 28-year-old man she met playing an Xbox game. That is just one example among thousands that could be shared.

In December 2015, Tim Challies authored a blog post entitled “Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas,” which he started this way: “This Christmas a lot of children will receive porn from under the tree. It not what they wanted, and not what their parents intended for them to have. But they will get it anyway.” What did Challies have in mind? “[G]iving your children computers, iPods, tablets—any of these devices—gives them access to the major gateway to pornography,” Challies wrote, after citing these statisics: “According to recent research, 52% of pornography is now viewed through mobile devices, and 1 in 5 searches from a mobile device is for porn. The average age of first exposure to pornography is 12. Nine out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls will be exposed to pornography before the age of 18. 71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents. 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to online pornography.”

When parents are absent or are too busy to spend time with their children, getting to know them, keeping an eye on how they use their time and what they do with their electronic devices, they are creating opportunities for children to seek the attention they are not receiving from their parents in very dangerous places. Parents who are too busy, too tired or simply not present cannot provide the supervision, the attention or the training essential to the development of discernment that children need. Parents need to remember that children are a gift from the Lord and with children comes great responsibility. Parents need to be wise as serpents when it comes to the devices they allow their children to have, the amount of time they allow the children to use them and the amount of supervision they will insist upon while they are being used. Technology is a wonderful thing and can be great fun. Never, though, will a parent forgive him- or herself if they flip and east response of “go watch the television” or “go play on your tablet” results in a child addicted to pornography or lured into sexual slavery. No one thinks that will happen to their child, but the risk is just not worth it.

May 5, 2015

The most important thing

Mattel has a brand new doll they want to sell your daughter. It’s called Hello Barbie, and it takes the classic American doll to a whole new level. This new Barbie uses WiFi and speech recognition, records the voice of the doll’s owner and then, using cloud servers and voice recognition software, sends responses back through the doll’s built-in speaker which allow little girls to have conversations with their Barbie. At a toy fair in New York a Mattel presenter said that the Hello Barbie can “have a unique relationship with each girl.” According to an article by Julie Borg, the doll will be able to “play interactive games, tell jokes, initiate storytelling, and listen and learn about each girl’s preferences and then adapt accordingly.”

A Washington Post article about the doll said, “a Mattel representative introduced the newest version of Barbie [at the New York toy fair] by saying: ‘Welcome to New York, Barbie.’ The doll, named Hello Barbie, responded: ‘I love New York! Don’t you? Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion or the sights?'” Not surprisingly then, the Washington Post article was titled, “Privacy advocates try to keep ‘creepy,’ ‘eavesdropping’ Hello Barbie from hitting the shelves.” A CNN story was headlined, “Talking Barbie is too ‘creepy’ for some parents.” Borg’s article in WORLD was subtitled “New interactive Barbie blurs privacy lines.”

This excerpt from the Post article explains where the “creepy” part comes in for most people: “Hello Barbie works by recording a child’s voice with an embedded microphone that is triggered by pressing a button on the doll. As the doll ‘listens,’ audio recordings travel over the Web to a server where the snippets of speech are recognized and processed. That information is used to help form Hello Barbie’s responses.”

The doll is not scheduled to be available for sale until the fall, and the companies involved with it–Mattel and ToyTalk, the company that manufactures the software in the doll–are planning to develop privacy policies before then. Already, though, a Mattel spokesperson says, “Mattel is committed to safety and security, and ‘Hello Barbie’ conforms to applicable government standards, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.” Interestingly enough, the technology in the doll could be used both by the toy company and by parents to “spy” on children. ToyTalk says, “Parents can choose to receive daily or weekly e-mails with access to the audio files of their children’s conversations with Hello Barbie.” Most parents do not listen in to every conversation their children have with their toys. Part of childhood’s wonder is the ability to pretend and talk to one’s toys–that, until now, have not been able to talk back. How will the ability to listen in to those conversations impact parent’s relationships with their children? This eavesdropping could have potentially positive results, but it is not difficult to imagine potentially dangerous ones, too. Then, too, there is the potential danger of someone other than the parent accessing the recordings, either by hacking the parents e-mail or the company web site, and using the information contained in the recordings to cultivate a relationship with the child.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has already created a petition demanding that Mattel scrap the doll because of the potential for using it to market directly to children. The doll could be used to plant the idea that children ask their parents for Barbie accessories, for example, the group claims. “Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” said Susan Linn, the group’s director.

Creepy though the technology and capabilities of the doll may be, it is not difficult to understand how we got to this point. “Sales of Barbie have plummeted recently, while demand for children’s apps and online games has exploded. Children are forging their digital footprint earlier than ever, forcing parents to make thorny decisions about what kinds of technology limits to put in place during playtime,” the Washington Post reported. With more and more parents giving their children virtually unlimited access to anything the Internet has to offer, through iPads, smart phones and more, one cannot fault Mattel for finding ways to combine the latest in technological capability with their best-selling toy for young girls. Still, that does not mean the doll is a good idea.

The concerns described above are legitimate and need to be taken seriously. Borg highlights another danger, though, when she emphasizes in her article the fact that the technology contained in the doll will serve only to further separate children from real-life interactions and relationships. She points out that in their touting of the doll’s benefits, Mattel claims that the doll can eventually become a girl’s best friend. Dipesh Navsaria, a pediatrician and board member of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said, “Computer algorithms can’t replace, and should not displace, the nuanced responsiveness of caring people interacting with one another. Children’s well-being and healthy development demand relationships and conversations with real people and real friends.” We live in a culture that is already celebrating the pseudo-relationships facilitated by the convenience of instant digital communication. People send text messages to teachers when their children will be late for school, teens ask their friends for relationship advice via Facebook messaging and they spread rumors and gossip via Facebook posts. Courts have ruled that divorce papers can be served via Facebook, too. There are real dangers in abandoning genuine interpersonal relationships in favor of those that exist only in the cyber realm. People say things through keyboards they would never say to someone’s face–but that is only one of the myriad dangers that exist when one interacts with the world almost exclusively through technology.

I do not fault Mattel or ToyTalk for pursuing the creation of Hello Barbie, and I am sure that other toy companies will soon have their own offerings that incorporate this interactive technology. Again, though, that does not mean it is a good idea, and, personally, I would strongly caution parents against buying this doll for their daughters. I will not be signing any petitions opposing the release of the toy, nor do I think banning its sale is necessary. Mattel is a company driven by profit. If the doll doesn’t sell well, they will quit selling it. If your daughter still plays with Barbie’s try buying her one that doesn’t talk back, then get down on the floor and play Barbies with her–letting her and you create the voices and conversations yourselves. No tech companies will listen in, no advertising with be slipped into the conversation, and the relationship between your daughter and you will be strengthened. That’s the most important thing of all.

September 19, 2014

(Re)Defining Education

I do not like to “attack” fellow laborers in the field of Christian education. We get enough attacks from outside of Christian ed; no need to go after each other. At the same time, though, there is a need to identify and confront error when it exists, whether in Christian education, within the church or anywhere else within the realm of Christendom. Much to my dismay, yesterday I read an article in a Christian education publication that requires such confrontation. Adding to my dismay is the fact that this article was written by the dean of the School of Education at one of the leading Christian universities in the United States, which causes me no small amount of concern about what the education majors at this university are being taught.

The article begins with the question, “What should Christian education look like in the twenty-first century?” The author then states that in order to answer this question it is necessary to “consider how the twenty-first century child learns.” As part of his answer to that, he writes, “Watch a middle childhood student multitask by playing a video game, texting a friend on her phone, video chatting on her computer, and working on her homework.” The implication is that she is doing all of these things at the same time. And right there, not even a paragraph into the article, my hackles are raised. There is no reason for a “middle childhood student” to have the technology available to be doing all of these things at once. She certainly does not need all of this technology of her own. (Frankly, I do not even know what “middle childhood” means, because I do not think it is a term I have ever heard before. Since the article also references elementary students and young adolescents, I am assuming “middle childhood” must encompass ages 10-12 or so). Thus, the initial concern with this individual’s recommendations is that we are granting the notion of children having almost free reign over various and sundry digital devices, and that is a notion I think we should be challenging, not granting.

The writer goes on to state this: “These twenty-first century learners are comfortable with instant communication with anyone anywhere in the world; quick access to vast, accurate (or not) information; and the immediate ability to produce creative multisensory projects with only access to the Internet. These students interact with content and each other in a different way than students did just a decade ago” (emphasis his). Again, though, I challenge the notion that because students are comfortable with this that we therefore should educate them this way. Just because students are comfortable with something–anything–does not mean it should be incorporated into a classroom setting. Students are no doubt comfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts, lounging on their sofa and munching on snacks while they do all the various things described in the paragraph above. By no means does that mean that we should allow them to behave that way in classrooms.

Notice, as well, in the above quote, the repeated use of words that refer to instant gratification–“instant communication,” “quick access” and “immediate ability.” We live in a world that is all about doing things faster, so it is no surprise that students are used to this pace. Frankly, that is all the more reason why we should avoid automatically engaging them that way in classrooms. The attention span of many students today is shorter than this sentence. That is a problem, not an opportunity. That means teaching styles that do not conform to their “give it to me now” preferences will take them some getting used to, may even make them uncomfortable. That’s good. It is not good because I think being mean to students is fun. Rather, it is good because learning necessarily entails becoming uncomfortable. Unless I become uncomfortable with the fact that there are things I do not know there will be absolutely zero motivation for me strive to know them. While being able to learn in familiar and comfortable methods can be a valuable part of education, learning how to learn in new and unfamiliar ways is also an important part of education. I am well aware of the fact that technology is moving and developing at breakneck speed. Though students find it hard to believe when I tell them this, can remember television commercials when I was in elementary school that had the tag line “Computers are coming your way!” I can remember the first computer we ever had in a classroom and I can remember when my elementary school got a computer lab. This was big news–literally. A reporter and camera from a local news affiliate showed up to record the story! So things have changed, and are changing, and that is not going to change. But classroom instruction does need to mirror or follow every technological advancement–certainly not in toto.

On this point the author of the article I am critiquing and I clearly disagree. He writes, “It is essential to synch today’s classroom with the twenty-first century student’s way of learning.” This is simply not true. Neither is it necessarily wise. Yes, the use of technology is an important component of teaching, and teachers should take advantage of the many things that technology can enable them to do that truly enhance their instruction, but that should be one tool in their toolbox. Oddly enough, the author states as much when he writes, “A teacher’s toolbox of instructional models, methods, and strategies should contain a plethora of ways to engage students in the academic content to motivate them to learn.” That is odd for this reason–synching classrooms with the student’s way of learning is contradictory to using a plethora of ways to engage students. The implication of the first statement, and indeed of much of the article, is that classrooms need to adapt to students’ preferred and comfortable styles period.

Another erroneous premise of the article is that the utilization of all of the bells, whistles and wonders of the latest technology is necessary for effective learning. The author writes, “The educator must purposefully plan to create multiple memories for each concept. This current understanding of how the brain works best aligns with a nontraditional, student-centered approach to teaching, which is compatible for the twenty-first century learner.” Unless I am missing something or misunderstanding something, these coupling is absurd. Yes, the multiple memory idea is valid. However, it can be utilized in addition to a traditional approach; it does not have to be used instead of it. Furthermore, the implication is that traditional instruction does not (cannot?) create multiple memory pathways, and that implication is simply false; it is entirely possible to create multiple memories without utilizing technology.

While there are several additional points I could make here, I am endeavoring to keep my critique of the article shorter than the article itself, so let me jump to this statement made close to the article’s conclusion. “Unfortunately, too many Christian school classrooms are based on the traditional model of instruction in which the teacher is the giver of all information, forcing the learner to be passive and absorb factual-based information.” I would challenge both the use of the word “all” in that sentence and the idea that learners are necessarily passive in traditional instruction. Neither is automatically true.

This author states that utilizing individualized instructional models that conform to students’ interests will “increase the probability that the student will become successful.” Frankly, I disagree. I think what it will do is increase the probability that the student will become self-centered and unprepared for the realities of life. Are we really serving students, or adequately preparing them for “the real world,” by making everything focused on them? By tailoring, or allowing them to tailor, everything to their own likes, styles and preferences? I would answer with a hearty no. That the dean of the school of education of one of America’s leading evangelical universities thinks yes–and thus, no doubt, ensures that education students at his university are taught yes–does not bode well for the future of Christian education. This is not a defining of twenty-first century education, it is a redefining of education for the twenty-first century.

September 9, 2014

Interesting applications?

On August 29 an article by John Brandon appeared on FoxNews.com. The article was entitled, “Is there a microchip implant in your future?” The article’s lead paragraph offers several ways in which said implant could make life simpler…safer, even. For example, you could pass through airport security with your identity being transmitted via your implant, or “it can help you buy groceries at Wal Mart.” Possibly, the implant could help save your life should you ever find yourself kidnapped in a foreign country.

Brandon writes, “Microchip implants like the ones pet owners use to track their dogs and cats could become commonplace in humans in the next decade.” That simple statement is one that I find incredibly alarming, and I suspect most people will agree. Brandon lists potential advantages as including the quick location of a missing or kidnapped child or of soldiers or journalists in war zones. While those are possible advantages, there are also, of course, many possible disadvantages. During the last presidential campaign season Republican Ron Paul was mostly mocked when he pointed out that a suggested national identification card that might be used to address immigration issues could just as easily be misused by the government against U.S. citizens. The reality, though, is that such misuse is entirely possible, and the potential danger of such misuse is exponentially higher with a microchip implanted into a person than with any kind of identification card.

Brandon’s article cites Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, an author and scholar, as saying that implanted microchips could be “less intrusive than some emerging ID systems which rely on physical biometrics (like your fingerprints or unique eye pattern).” While that argument could no doubt be made, and probably convincingly, it fails to take into consideration the fact that my fingerprints or unique eye pattern (with a retinal scan, for instance) are only usable when I offer them or, in the case of fingerprints, leave them behind. Would it be easier to walk through some unseen detection system that reads my implant and immediately grants me access to a restricted area than to pause, place my eye against some kind of scanner and wait for it to read my retina? Probably. But I think I’ll take the retinal scan every time, thank you, because it is up to me whether I want to submit myself to that scan or not.

While Brandon’s article cites all kinds of possible advantages for crime fighting and security that could be provided with the implants, it seems to me that an implant could quite possibly be easier to steal than fingerprints or retinas. Maybe I’ve seen too many spy moves and crime thrillers in which complex security systems must be foiled, but if all that is necessary is for someone to have the chip that is inside me I cannot imagine it bothering them to make a small incision and remove it if that chip is going to get them whatever it is they are wanting (and they have already demonstrated a willingness to get it through illegal means). The article informs us that the chips are “easy to install and remove, and, because they are implanted under the skin, they are unobtrusive.” Unobtrusive is good…easy to remove may not be when considering the possible criminal applications of these devices.

Brandon also writes that these microchips are being used “to manage farm animals. Farmers can track sheep, pigs and horses as they move through a gate, weigh them instantly and make sure they are eating properly.” For the farmer or rancher that may be terrific. But do I really want someone–anyone–to have the ability to track me as I move anywhere, to weigh me instantly or make sure that I am eating properly? Do I want anyone to be able to do any of the myriad other things that an implanted chip would allow? And, by the way, am I the only one troubled by the idea that if it works for livestock it surely must be a good idea for humans? Such “logic” is a step onto a very dangerous way of thinking indeed.

The article further states that implants are “normally” only useful within a short range, meaning they could not be used to track people unless there was “an infrastructure of transponders scattered around a city that read their identity in public buildings and street corners.” There are two things about this statement that I find exceedingly troubling. First, the word “normally” indicates that there are exceptions; if trying to still concerns about possible abuses of this technology, “normally” is a poor word choice! Secondly, given the ever-expanding presence of cameras in cities around the world–for the purpose of fighting crime, of course–I do not find that stretches credulity at all to imagine that “an infrastructure of transponders” could easily be “scattered around a city.”

Other possible uses Brandon identifies? “If children were chipped, teachers could take attendance in the classroom.” Um, no thank you. It doesn’t take so long to put eyes on a child, or even to call names and have children respond “here” that we need to facilitate the taking of attendance by means of microchips. What else, then? “Police could track cars and read data without needing to scan license plates.” Again, I think I’ll pass, thanks. There are ample abuses of the technology that exists already, but various government agencies; the idea of giving them even stronger technology with greater potential for abuse is not appealing in the least. A final possible use Brandon suggests: “[I]f you walk into a donut shop, the owner could read your taste preferences (glazed or not glazed) without needing a loyalty card.” Beyond the idea that I find this ridiculous and not even close to being a need, this would serve only to create even more disconnect between humans–something we have more than enough of as it is.

To his credit, Brandon does include a few possible abuses of the technology and questions as to whether not implanting chips in humans is ethical. Among the potential abuses mentioned are someone “hacking into the infrastructure and stealing your identity to invading your privacy and knowing your driving habits.” Brandon even talked to Troy Dunn who has a show on TNT in which he attempts to locate missing persons. While he said microchip technology would likely make his job easier, he is “strongly against the practice for most people.” He said he would support the use of chips for “convicted felons while in prison and on parole; for sex offenders forever; and for children if parents opt in.”

Stu Lipoff, a spokesman for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said, “People might find it a bit unsavory, but if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues, there are many interesting applications.” No doubt; but these are major “ifs” and “apart froms,” ones far bigger than I would be willing to toss out. Saying “if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues” is akin to asking, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Sometimes the potential upside cannot even come close to the probably downside.

Interestingly enough, Brandon ended his article with this statement about the microchips: “At least it’s better than having a barcode stitched into our foreheads.” Yeah, probably so–less obtrusive an all that. But the implication is the same. Scripture makes it clear that there will come a day when the government requires a “mark” for buying and selling. Don’t be surprised if it takes the form of an implanted microchip.

March 18, 2014

Going Distracted

I am just recently returned from spring break, thus the gap in posts. Thanks for sticking around and coming back to see what’s new!

During the break I finished reading Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last. I do not agree with everything in the book, but he made some good points and had some meaningful insights. Toward the end of the book he has a chapter entitled The Abstract Generation. In it he makes this observation: “Generation Y thinks that, because they have grown up with all these technologies, they are better at multitasking. I would venture to argue they are not better at multitasking. What they are better at is being distracted.”

This observation, in my opinion, is right on target. Far too many of today’s young people think that they need to stimulated all the time. There is no appreciation for silence, there is no time set aside for quiet. They seem to be listening to iPods while surfing the Internet on their iPhones or iPads, simultaneously “watching” the television and probably–allegedly–also working on homework. In reality they are not doing any of these things well, and it’s no wonder, since none of them have their full attention. Unless there happens to be an entire generation of Edgars from David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell series it simply is not possible that that level of over-stimulation is doing anyone any good at all, much less making anyone more proficient at multitasking. Rather than multitasking they are actually semi-tasking–giving semi-attention to a variety of things at once.

There are plenty of studies out there on the impact that this level of stimulation has on the development of the human brain. The brain is impacted not only by this bombardment of stimuli, however, but also by the things that are not happening while the “multitasking” is going on. In their book Deep Brain Learning Larry Brendtro, Martin Mitchell and Herman McCall write about the impact of the society in which we live on our young people. The book’s first chapter is entitled Cultures of Discord, and it begins like this: “Modern society mass produces disconnected children.” They report that today’s teenagers spend approximately 5% of their time with their parents and 2% of their time with other adults, with the remainder of their time spent “with peers, on electronic media, or in isolation.” I might suggest that many teenagers are simultaneously doing all three. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I will see a group of young people, seemingly interacting with each other, but all of them scrolling through the latest status updates on their smartphone or texting madly, thumbs flying every which way. These young people are with their peers physically, but that’s about it. They share an occasional picture or joke or tweet, but they are more likely to text message someone three feet away from them than to engage in real and meaningful relationships with each other. So they are with peers and on electronic media but in reality they are isolated. Their electronic walls are like the shields on the U.S.S. Enterprise, invisible to the naked eye but perfectly capable of repelling an “attack” by someone trying to actually talk to them. What is the result? As Brendtro, et.al. write, “The thinking, values, and identity of many modern youth are being shaped by the subculture of the immature.” (And, sadly, that immaturity is progressively becoming more and more of the mainstream culture!)

During my spring break travels my family and I visited several national parks in Utah and Arizona. As we stood at the Needles Overlook (part of Canyonlands National Park in Utah) we were impressed both by the desolate beauty of the canyon spread before us and the incredible stillness and silence that surrounded us. The Needles Overlook is some twenty-five miles off of the main road and is not widely promoted; indeed, I only ended up there because a colleague who knew where we were headed recommended we check it out. As a result, there were only two other people that we saw while we were out there, and we never spoke to or otherwise interacted with them. We could see for miles and miles in every direction and other than the four in my family and the two others we saw we had no idea who else, if anyone, was anywhere nearby. I cannot imagine what being out there at night would be like. There was no breeze, no air traffic, nothing but the occasional comment from one of us. It struck me how few of us have ever really experienced silence.

The other thing that I am reminded of as I write this is that when we travel we do not have DVD players in the car, my children do not have laptops or tablets or phones. My own phone isn’t even “smart”! We drove more than three thousand miles on our spring break adventure. Sure, we listened to CDs with music and radio dramas but that was it. Other than that we–including my two children–had only the scenery, each other or books to occupy the attention; or, in my case, watching the road! (And, as anyone who has traveled with me knows, “each other” doesn’t amount to much on the stimulation front when one of the “each other” is me. I can go hundreds of miles without saying a word!) Are my children somehow deprived? Not at all. They are learning to appreciate ways of entertaining and occupying themselves other than with all of the “multitasking” options Sinek wrote about. They are learning to take in the beauty and diversity of God’s creation. They are even learning to enjoy silence once in a while!

So I’m with Simon Sinek on this one; the suggestion that Generation Y is better at multitasking because of all of the technology literally at their fingertips is about as accurate as suggesting that they are among the most physically fit generations to ever come along because of the incredible dexterity of their thumbs as a result of texting and video gaming! They’ve mastered the “art” of being distracted. The problem is they have no idea what to do when all of the distractions are taken away. Maybe it’s time we all take a moment to remember Psalm 46:10.

October 30, 2013

Forget About the Joneses

I am not saying anything original when I say that despite the increased connectivity of the age in which we live most people are in fact more disconnected than they were in the past. With the technology that we have today many people are able to be in instant contact with almost anyone almost anywhere in the world. There are tremendous advantages to this, of course. My family can talk to my sister-in-law in Ukraine via Skype and both see and hear her for free. I can chat online or via text message with anyone instantly. Indeed, I can post my rambling thoughts on this blog and anyone around the world can read them within nanoseconds of me clicking “Publish.” There is nothing wrong with any of that. The problem is, though, this increased connectivity via technology has led to decreased connectivity via actual person-to-person in-person interaction. Many people spend far more time e-mailing, texting, talking, tweeting and Facebooking than they do talking face to face.

Another serious part of the disconnect is the separation from reality. When our interaction with others is restricted to what we and others choose to post, text or tweet it is going to be skewed. This filtered reality goes both ways, of course. Some people are much more willing to say something through the intermediary of technology than they would ever be face to face. This usually means a willingness to say things that are offensive, derogatory or hurtful. Children, teens and adults alike seem empowered by technology–emboldened to peck out words on their keyboards or phones and click a button launching those words into cyberspace that they would never have the courage to deliver in person.

At the same time, this filtered reality also leads to people presenting an image that is not entirely accurate. It is more like an airbrushed or Photoshopped version of reality. While some people put anything and everything “out there” for the world to see, the tendency is to post, share, tweet and text that which is “the best.” Technology becomes a personal spin machine or public relations bureau. We tell the world when our children make the honor roll but not when they get sent to the principal’s office. We show everyone our new car but we tend to keep mum about backing into the lamppost across the street. We announce our birdies and hide our double-bogeys, highlight our home runs and keep silent about our strikeouts.

This filtered reality can have a deleterious effect when we are overexposed to it or fail to interact with it while also keeping a firm grip on actual reality. In fact, researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a study in which they asked Facebook users, through a series of online questionnaires over two weeks, how they felt about life. The study showed that using Facebook tended to result in a decrease in self-satisfaction and a decline in happiness.

U-M social psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the article about the study, said, “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result—it undermines it.” The complete article appears in PLOS ONE. According to Michigan News, the U-M News Service, the study also found “no evidence that interacting directly with other people via phone or face-to-face negatively influenced well-being. Instead, they found that direct interactions with other people led people to feel better over time.”

Why might the filtered-reality interaction lead to diminished satisfaction and happiness? In the words of one individual quoted by Daniel James Devine in the September 21, 2013 issue of WORLD Magazine, “Facebook is like looking at a highlights reel, and then comparing it to the real thing. Comparison is the thief of joy.” In a Facebook-centric world people accumulate friends and then spend hours exposing themselves only to the filtered-reality of those friends’ Facebook personas.

Facebook can be great. So can texting, e-mailing, tweeting, blogging and more. Be very careful, though, to keep a clear head during your filtered social interactions. Do not be fooled by the “highlight reels” your “friends” are sharing–that is not the extent of their lives. Even if it were, comparison and envy is a sure-fire route to sadness and depression. Forget about the Joneses…your happiness should never come from comparing yourself to others.

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