There may be a deadly monster lurking among us — a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It might be in your pocket or purse right now. It is likely in the hands of your sons and daughters.
We’ve allowed it to infiltrate everything we do and we are, mostly, completely unaware of its potential consequences. It’s time to start paying attention.
The monster I refer to is the ubiquitous smart phone and tablet.
I have been growing more and more concerned that we have perhaps tasted of a modern day Forbidden Fruit of Eden.
Many school districts have gone to 1:1 technology, where every student is issued a laptop or a tablet. This comes with many exciting possibilities to take education into new areas never dreamed of before. Even in more traditional schools, the vast majority of students have a smartphone with them at all times. Outside of school, the vast majority of kids have smartphones and tablets in front of them constantly.
Students have the world at their fingertips. There are many positives to this but we are beginning to realize that there are potential negatives and, quite possibly, devastating negatives.
Students today are the first generation in history to grow up with this technology. In essence, they are laboratory guinea pigs when it comes to how these technologies affect kids. The iPhone, which started the smartphone craze, isn’t as old as it seems. It’s only been around for about 10 years. Think how smartphones and tablets have changed your life as an adult. Can you imagine growing up in a world where they were a part of your life from an early age?
Studies are now coming out about how smartphone technology has impacted the first generation that has ever grown up with access to it. The results are quite troubling.
Over the last 10 years, the number of teens identified as suffering from depression has risen sharply. Suicide and suicide attempts among teens have gone up dramatically over that same time span. This is true across all racial, religious and socioeconomic categories. The cold, hard facts show that, since the advent of the smartphone, more teens are suffering from depression and more of them are taking their own lives.
Too many teens are beginning to base their self-worth on how they are perceived on social media. To make matters worse, many of the parents of those kids are just as addicted to social media and technology–perhaps too far gone themselves to be in a position to help guide their children.
Beyond the pitfalls of tying one’s self-worth to the way they are perceived on social media, there is another dark and disturbing aspect of those smart devices that are ever-present in the hands of today’s youth. Pornography is a click away and, don’t kid yourself, young kids know exactly where to find it. I teach in a middle school and the things I have overheard 13-year-old kids–boys and girls–talking about that they have viewed on line are shocking. I’m quite sure they’ve already been viewing such material for years by the time they come to me as 8th graders. This is part of what I meant with my analogy about the Forbidden Fruit of Eden. In the last decade, our children have begun to be exposed to things no young children should see. Most frightening to me is the fact that this is so new that we really don’t have a big data sample to see how this will ultimately affect these kids when they grow up. I fear that we are raising a generation that will have very unhealthy and unrealistic understandings about sex. I shudder to think of how the next generation of young men might view women and how that might impact future marriages and families.
As if that weren’t scary enough, I also worry about physical aspects of our new WiFi world. I wonder what kind of spike in cancer rates we may begin to see as generations of kids grow up having been constantly exposed to low doses of radiation emitting from the devices that are ever-present in their hands, pockets or book bags. I worry, too, about our very atmosphere. As we have become so amazingly connected through wireless internet, most of us spend our entire lives now walking through an invisible field of mysterious waves of information. I haven’t seen any studies that would suggest that this is causing us harm, but WiFi is still a pretty new thing. Perhaps my hypochondria is showing but, every once in a while, it will dawn on me that I am swimming in a sea of invisible waves of technology and, I must admit, it begins to give me the willies.
In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve went where they weren’t meant to go, grabbed the forbidden fruit, and bit off more than they could chew, causing the fall of mankind.
Have we now done the same with technology?
**Portions of this essay first appeared in a column I wrote for the Anderson Herald Bulletin.
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