Blame the Internet

I’ve read a staggering number of articles lately about how technology is destroying the world. Studies show that people are ‘addicted’ to connectivity, unable to disconnect and walk away. Studies also show that children who grow up with this technological addiction have a harder time empathizing with their fellow human beings. Rather than hailing the Internet as a marvel that connects everyone, ‘experts’ paint it as the demonic harbinger of the apocalypse.

But wait! I could swear I’ve heard these arguments before. I grew up before the Internet weaseled its way into every home. We heard all the same stories about TV and video games. The cause of childhood obesity? TV and video games, which prevent children from going outside to play. Are children desensitized to violence? Of course, because of TV, video games and movies! I wonder if anyone blamed books or radio for the same issues in the days before TV came along.

When I hear people talk like this, I laugh. I have experienced the strange anxiety that comes with being disconnected. It has nothing to do with not ‘getting my fix,’ and everything to do with being isolated from my friends and family who are all far away. And aside from these rare periods of forced isolation, I don’t find it difficult to disconnect. When my husband and I go out for dinner on date night, we don’t take out our cell phone and surf the web (our cell phone doesn’t even have data). We don’t check to see if someone is texting or calling us every five minutes. We leave the phone in my purse and enjoy each other’s company. I don’t have difficulty walking away from my computer at night to read a book, and I don’t keep an electronic device handy for checking my email when I’m in bed.

I do know people who seem surgically attached to their smart phone, who can’t seem to spend an afternoon without sending a million texts. There’s nothing more annoying than taking someone out, turning to share an experience and finding them engrossed in their latest text conversation. But I don’t understand why those people find it so hard to disconnect.

It was never TV, video games or the Internet’s fault that children didn’t go outside to play. It isn’t technology’s fault we get so engrossed in Tumblr we lose four hours that were supposed to be dedicated to sleep. And if teenagers aren’t learning to empathize with their fellows because they’ve always got their nose in a cell phone, that isn’t the phone’s fault either. I’m not sure why we always point the finger at technology when the real culprit is clear.

Parents, if you want your child to go outside and play, take away their TV, video game and Internet privileges. For years, ‘experts’ have been saying you should limit a child’s screen time. You’re supposed to encourage children to play with their toys, or go outside and interact with other children. So, maybe, do that?

Maybe teenagers shouldn’t come to dinner with their mobile phones. Maybe set designated ‘off’ hours or other limits. When I grew up, if my friends wanted to talk to me, they had to call the house. And if my parents didn’t want me on the phone they could say ‘sorry, she can’t talk right now.’

Is it easier for me to disconnect because I grew up before the Internet permeated every aspect of our lives? I wasn’t allowed on the phone after a certain time of night. I wasn’t allowed on the computer past a certain time, and usually only got an hour or two of connectivity if I wasn’t working on a school project. If you don’t want your kids hiding in their room all day playing video games, don’t give them TVs and consoles to keep in their room. Put them in family places so you can monitor and control the amount of time they spend on those activities. Encourage them to go outside on sunny days. Change the wifi password and refuse to reveal it until they complete certain tasks.

Promoting personal time spent disconnected isn’t difficult. If parents raise their kids, instead of trusting the latest technology to do it for them, all these problems disappear. Let’s stop blaming smart devices for the results of lazy habits.

How do you promote time for disconnection in your life? Let me know in the comments.

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