The Big Disconnect: A Small Review
If a parent has mixed feelings about the endless parade of video games, apps, ipods, ipads, to say nothing of Facebook, Twitter and the like, I’d like to recommend an excellent book (yes, an old fashioned book of paper, ink, and cloth). The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age is a wise, informative peroration on the tricky task of raising a child in an age of “tech” marvels and the benefits and dangers they offer to young children.
We all know that children are drawn like flies to computers and computer gaming. And like flies to a lamp, they are often addicted before parents realize what is happening. Author Catherine Steiner-Adair (with Teresa H. Barker) points out that brightly lit, ever moving images stimulate the human brain to produce dopamine, the chemical that provides pleasure. Not surprisingly, dopamine is highly addictive. Your brain gets hooked on the rush and wants more, more, MORE.
And what diet do we feed this thirsting brain? Pornography, violence, and pop-up advertising. And if we are honest with ourselves, it is not just our children. Do we set a good example by constantly checking out Facebook accounts, texting our friends, and surfing the web for gewgaws? The book warns us that children’s brains are still growing, still in flux. Be very careful to what we expose them online. Remember when one of our favorite villains was “Madison Avenue?” We should be more worried now, I think, about “Silicon Valley.”
Being old enough to remember the emergence of this online world, from the punched cards and Commodore Pets we used in the late 1970s to today’s smartphones and pocket computers, I am amazed at what a cauldron of filth, hate, and lies can be found online today. Not surprised; I learned very early that sex sells and that mass murder can be infantilized. But I never dreamed that they would become the objects of children’s games.
A few paragraph headings reveal some of the objects of this book:
Tech is Eroding the Capacity for Sustained Attention.
Kids Can’t Pull the Plug on a Good Time - It’s Our Job to Show them How
When Hanging Out Turns to Zoning Out
And a quote. This one (metaphorically) was like a punch in the gut:
The other way parents are clueless is when they have abdicated their parental authority in favor of keeping the peace, being friends with their kids, or rescuing their kids from consequences. Essentially, the put on blinders to avoid what they don’t ant to see. [p. 238]
Have I abdicated? Maybe, but it is an important question to ask oneself.
It depends, I suppose, on what you want your family life to be. This book is not for Luddites, or technophobes. The authors clearly state that technology is useful, although when it is put to lurid use, it will become an evil presence in our lives. The last chapter of the book does make a plea for more family time disconnected from technology – more time just being quiet, sitting on the porch together, sharing a family meal, “slow time no time always enough time.” As Steiner-Adair puts it,
When we all get caught in our screens, caught in the World Wide Web, and we disconnect from an ethical culture, the humanistic values that all religions share, we forget about the other forces that connect and ground us. We forget to be grateful…. [p. 294]
So don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we all throw away our digital goodies. But keep them in perspective. Turn them off when they try to engulf us. Set limits. Keep an eye on your children’s use of them. Teach them to hear silence.