Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

December 2, 2013

Losing focus thanks to technology

By Louise Gorenflo
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — For better or worse, our use of media, from TV to iPhones and now Google Glass, has exploded. Today, we are daily consuming three times as much information as we did in 1960.

While interaction with online educational games and apps can be a learning experience, the percentage of young children who are trading in picture books for LED screens has crept up to astonishing levels. Over one-third of children ages birth to eight years have used a smart phone, mp3 player, video iPod, iPad or a similar tablet — and 11 percent of children used these technological trinkets on a daily basis. More than 7.5 million American children under the age of 13 have joined Facebook even though you have to be 13 to officially open an account. 

Despite strong competition from e-gadgets, TV still dominates, with a whopping 44 percent of kids under age eight having tubes in their bedrooms. Children watch an average of one hour and 40 minutes of television or DVDs per day, compared to 29 minutes reading or being read to — despite doctor warnings against too much screen time.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed its position that children under age two should not engage in any screen time, yet the data shows infants and toddlers are growing up surrounded by them. By the time American children are two years old, 90 percent have an online history; at the age of five more than 50 percent regularly interact with a computer or tablet device; and between ages seven and eight youngsters regularly play video games. Teens text nearly 3,500 times a month, and by middle school kids are spending more time with media than parents or teachers.

Electronic media intensifies an age-old conflict in the brain. A portion of the brain acts as a control tower, helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated. Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone’s brain thinking. But we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.

The ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes how much people engage with one another, even when in the same room. Social interaction is essential to the human condition. Paying attention to someone shows how much you care. One in seven married respondents said the use of these devices was causing them to see less of their spouses. And one in 10 said they spent less time with their children under 18.

If you feel increasingly that the real world is too slow paced, it may be time for you to limit your online time. Check out the web for some ideas on how to do that. Just remember, this is your life.

May you find what I have reported interesting and something you can use in your life. I invite you to email me your thoughts (lgorenflo@gmail.com).