Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Are Machines Doing To Our Children?

In the last ten days I have heard the following stories.

  • A first grade reading teacher told me that it is almost impossible today to gain and keep the attention of students to teach them reading. They have the attention span of a gnat.  She told me it is like having an entire class of students with Attention Deficit Disorder. This is a teacher that has been teaching a very long time and has seen thousands of students in her career.  

  • I also heard the story of a father who took three middle school age girls on a car trip of 2 hours. Not a word was spoken between the three girls the entire trip.  However, they all were constantly using their thumbs to text most of the trip. When they arrived at the destination the father asked the girls why they had not conversed together.  Their response-"What are you talking about? We texted with each other the entire trip."----  "OMG, look at that cow!"

  • Someone related to me that they saw a 5-year go up to a television to change the channel.  They swiped at the screen with their finger and could not understand why the picture on the set did not change.

Bill O'Reilly calls this the menace of machines on our children.  Computers, the internet, texting, iPhones, iPads, video games.

What are these machines doing to our children?

What will be the affect on their interpersonal skills?

On their personal communication and conversational skills?

On their writing skills?

On their reading ability?

On their connection to the real world?

On their coping skills?

These are big questions.

O'Reilly is a former teacher so he knows something about this subject. He said this in a recent "Talking Points" segment on his show.

Right now millions of kids simply want to play games on the net. That's all they want to do. They don't want to play sports, they don't want to go outside and run around. They don't want to do activities that separate them from cyberspace.

The main problem here is that the net allows people to create their own worlds. They can lose themselves in a vast array of distractions therefore, they don't learn coping skills. They don't compete and their national curiosity is stifled.
In the last week I also received this article from AdWeek magazine that was sent to me by my Millennial age son. The article was entitled "The Millennial Male Is Not Who You Think He Is".

With the article he also added a note to his mother and I.

"I guess I can finally say I'm glad you didn't let me play video games as a kid! Adults bragging about what level they reached in video games?"

What was he talking about?

First, you need to know that my wife and I never let our children have any video games while they were growing up.  There was no Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox or anything else in our house.  They were not happy about it at the time.  We heard plenty of complaints.  We heard that no one wanted to come to our house because there was nothing to do.  We heard that we were horrible parents.  That note from our son seems to prove we may have done something right along the way.

What is he referring to in the Adweek article?  This is how the article begins.

It’s the best time in the world to be a millennial man, to hear baby boomers tell it—let your parents or your girlfriend pay the rent, maybe start a useless tech company, watch marketers trip over themselves trying to reach you. But talk to guys in this highly desirable demo yourself and you might discover a disenfranchised group with little disposable income, a love of niche culture and an upbeat outlook that belies the economic hand they’ve been dealt (two-seven offsuit).

A little later they get into a discussion of the video games that millennial males like to play. After all, what's more important in life than going platinum on a video game? This must have caught my son's attention as he has no video games to play.  We didn't buy them for him and he sure would not spend his own money on them today.

All pride themselves on being outliers, on having really nerdy, wonky interests that they know everything about—but which don’t really have that much in common with the gen pop. “I platinumed Warhawk,” says Steve proudly, “which is the No. 1 hardest game on the Sony [PS3] to platinum.” (It’s hard, incidentally, to “platinum” any game—that is, to get every last one of the cleverly named virtual trophies for performing a stunt.)

Of course, when you look at some of the facts of life facing the millennial generation you can easily understand why escaping into the world of video games has some attraction.

First, a few statistics on U.S. millennials, or Gen Y, or Those Damned Kids, depending on who you ask: Collectively, they carry $1 trillion in student loans. Only 62 percent of them have jobs, and only half of those work full-time. Median net worth among people under 35 has decreased by more than a third since 2005. Barely one-quarter of the men have bachelors’ degrees, despite all that college debt (many didn’t finish). More than one-third live at home with their parents—double the number from the previous generation.

The point of the Adweek article is that marketers are beating their brains out trying to reach the millennial male demographic.  There are millions of them but they don't have much money, most can't afford cable so they play video games or pirate videos, and most don't want a new car (they have no money for it anyway).  Not exactly a marketers dream.  However, how do you ignore them?  They just might get their act together.  It they do turn that corner are they going to know anything about your brand? It is a risky bet on the future either way.

The same can be said about the effects of machines on our children.  Are we making riskier bets with our children with each new piece of technology that makes things easier?

I see it myself every day.  I used to remember all sorts of phone numbers off the top of my head.  I am lucky to even remember my wife's cell phone number today.  I used to find my way on my own anywhere I needed to go.  I now rely on my GPS and I often don't know which way is north.  I had the skills and they have become dull due to lack of use.

What of our children?  They are not even getting the most fundamental foundational elements of many essential skills for self-reliance, interpersonal relationships and real face to face conversation.  Using their head (mouth and ears included) and not just their thumbs.

Technology is a wonderful thing.  However, when does it stop enabling us and begin to disable us?

My advice is to be very aware of what these machines and technology can do to your children.  You want to stay very far away from the line that separates enable from disable with your kids.

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