In The Age of Technology, we often hear of people and institutions using the phrase “early adapter” to describe those who embrace the newest technologies before anyone else. In the culture, there seems to be a cache attached to this; as if those first in are somehow more advanced, savvy, visionary even. It would be easy to believe this, until and unless that is, you pay attention at what has already been happening to those first in. Those whom we might more accurately describe as, “the canaries in the coal mine.”
In her book, Disconnected, Devra Davis cites research demonstrating that those teens shown to be heavy users, those in early and using a lot, are the same group that are 4-5 times more likely to develop brain cancer in their late twenties. And in South Korea, who as a country embraced technology about a decade ahead of us, is the same nation that can now boast Internet Addiction Camps, where their young spend weeks in technology rehab. And then there are the teachers, the really seasoned ones, the ones who had a “before”; who standing on the front lines will describe today’s habitually plugged in students as having tremendous difficulty focusing, attending and concentrating. All skills, by the way, that are the most essential building blocks for learning. This is the short list on the canary hit list. Likely, we all have our examples.
Would we ever send our young down into a coal mine to determine if the air would sustain life? Not likely. But, in effect, that is what we are doing when we plug them in with no awareness of the long-term consequences to their physical, social, emotional, mental and spiritual health. And once that “air” has been breathed, is there a way to take it back? To negate its impact? To undo the damage done? What would it be like if we took a more cautious and skeptical approach to our children and their use of the technologies? It would look like more work for us for sure. It takes effort to notice and to make choices that go against the cultural grain. But should that be the criteria? You decide.