There are bromides so often repeated by a society that they become untouchable. Ideas like “believe in yourself,” “the most important thing is making the world a better place,” and “diversity makes us stronger” are in every New York Times editorial, every Wall Street Journal article, and every news blog posting. One idea that gets ample attention is the importance of exposing children to technology. “We need to ensure that the next generation is tech literate!” comes the cry. I think I remember Candidate Barack Obama proposing that we turn America into a campaign hotspot. I’ve seen commercials of fledgling yuppies using social media to save Ethiopian villages. I’ve heard about the importance of helping school children in Afghanistan access the Internet. I haven’t heard Internet access called a human right yet, but I’m sure I will read an editorial that says so before long. We do live in an “increasingly connected world,” after all.
The hubris that underlies this worship of high technology and specifically the belief that we need to initiate children into it is absurd. First of all, what are most people actually using the Internet for? The truth is that an overwhelming majority of Internet traffic is pornography and streamed movies, and I suppose the rest is funny cat pictures. I heard an ad the other day exhorting parents to get their children a smart phone for educational purposes because “a smartphone is like a tutor that never leaves your child’s side.” What horseshit. Secondly, I posit that people are less and less able to understand technology even while they use ever more complicated technology. There is no reason for children, especially young children, to need to learn computer operating systems that are designed for anyone to use. It takes about a month to learn to use Windows. It really is that easy. I see the benefits of teaching typing, and perhaps teaching interested children about programming. But the fact is that apps, smartphones, and consumer operating systems can be easily learned used by people with IQs of about 85. There is no rush to teach children to be “users.” Third, we have no idea what the end result of this constant connectivity will be, but it doesn’t look good so far. Attention spans are decreasing, chemical changes are taking place in people’s brains, and many people can’t even have a conversation anymore. Language, rote learning, and human interaction are all casualties as we retreat into the virtual world. I was in the Muir Redwood Forest recently, walking next to a beautiful brook under the shade of the ancient trees. Tech literate 8 year olds glued to their iPhones walked past and it saddened me to think they would probably always love their smartphones more than the real world. This is similar to the disturbing obsession many took to James Cameron’s CGI planet in Avatar. We are coming to love the fake so much that reality is drab and boring.
More than anything, we should limit technology use by children. Hell, maybe it should be treated like a drug that only people over 21 can use.