Our society has more connectivity than ever. At CES 2018 the conversation was all about how we’ve transitioned from the “digital age” to the connected age. Psychologists, however, warn that connectivity isn’t the same thing as being connected. Here’s what they mean.
We carry supercomputers around in our pockets and instead of using them to solve complex arithmetic or learn new information we watch videos of cats, read fake news, and gossip publicly about our friends. All of our devices are united on the same network, sharing data (intentionally or otherwise,) and building our digital identities.
The algorithms that run our favorite social media and search engines have learned how to continuously feed us the same versions of the information we want to see. When we search for a news story we will immediately see stories from the same source we always see it from, when our kids search for videos on a topic for school they will always get regurgitated versions of the same information. “This doesn’t broaden their horizons.” Dr. Jenny Radesky, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, American Academy of Pediatrics at yesterday’s “Truth About Tech” summit in Washington. While we think that screens and tech are the way of the future and critical for our kids’ education, we have to continue to balance the benefits of digital tools with evergrowing entertainment uses.
From Tools to Entertainment
Everything on the Internet has potential to be an awesome tool. Social media is no exception. However, when the information we use to connect is sold to the highest bidder as marketing data and our means of connection turns into entertainment it’s actual usefulness comes into question. Social media is great when we use it to keep in contact with friends and family but when we use the tech as a replacement for actual learning or time with our kids we have missed the point of connection entirely.
Social Media executives boast that they are connecting the world like never before but we aren’t seeing true connections. We are seeing these companies treat our information like a product to be sold. This results in a click/share/comment model of connectivity that doesn’t build meaningful relationships. Scientists have found that face to face conversations create empathy. When your brain sees the expressions on someone’s face it triggers chemical’s reactions that you to feel what they are feeling.
Neuroscience is teaching us that constantly communicating through text and simulated video chat isn’t actually connection. Our bodies physically lack the response we’re supposed to have when interacting with other human beings. Studies have shown that people admit to caring less in general. Especially, though, about the things they see on social media. When a friend loses a job, a simple “thoughts and prayers” post on Facebook makes us feel better but we are less stirred into any form of beneficial action. Sure, we have connectivity like never before, but we are increasingly less connected.
What Parents Should Know
“Make media a shared family activity and play your kids’ apps with them.” – Dr. Jenny Radesky, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, American Academy of Pediatrics
I can’t say it enough. We have to model healthy tech habits for our kids. If they see us caring less and less because of the increased connectivity without true connection, they’ll follow directly in our footsteps. Teaching them to manage the amount of time they spend on social media will go a long way to increase their desire and ability to truly connect with people. Spending time with them on and off of our screens and having critical, face to face conversations with them will encourage them to do the same thing.
Our favorite online activities are designed to cater to our own preferences and can create a selfishness that we don’t even recognize. Our teens don’t need any help being selfish, their brain development makes it hard enough for them to empathize, overuse of technology and social media just exacerbates that problem. Parents are the first line of defense to make a change in your kids’ lives. You have to do something. Here’s what I would suggest.
Use unGlue to monitor their time and let them set limits. Subscribe so you can see what they are doing online and help them make good choices. Maybe your kids are younger. Use Circle to limit certain types of sites that decrease empathy in young kids like social media and gaming. Talk to your kids frequently about the dangers of having serious conversations over text or chat. Remind them how important face to face conversation is and that a face on a screen doesn’t count. Model that behavior for your kids and help them make decisions that strengthen their concern and care about others instead of diminishing it. We can all agree that in the world we live in, we should all be caring more, not less. The first place kids will learn these traits is in their homes, from family.