When Tech Is a Problem Child

Excerpt from this article:

For the last six weeks, I’ve circulated (on social media!) 20 questions covering topics like homework, passwords, bedtime and punishments. I received responses from more than 60 families, and though the survey was unscientific, the answers have already changed how we manage tech at my house.

FIRST PHONES The vast majority of parents who responded gave their children their first phones in sixth or seventh grade, with a few holding out until high school. But those devices aren’t always cutting edge. Parents opted for “dumb phones,” “flip phones” or “hand-me-down phones” from siblings or grown-ups. They also turn off features, including Wi-Fi, Siri, even internet access.

FAMILY TIME Perhaps the biggest complaint about technology is that it eats into family time. So what techniques have parents used to take back that time?

First, tech-free dining. “No devices for all meals.” “No phones at the table, and that’s not just at our house. Siblings, nieces, nephews and my mom’s home have the same rule. No one gripes about it, they just do it.” “No devices at meals. No earbuds in the car.”

…Finally, when all else fails, many rely on the old parental standbys: threats, bribes and public humiliation. Threats: “Randomly I scream, ‘Take that phone out of your hand!’ It limits their use for the next five minutes.”

Bribes: “Parent-child date night. (Parents alternate taking one child out for a treat; fourth week is parents night out.)”

Public humiliation: “If a device is picked up during family time, we get to open texts, and my husband and I do dramatic text reading.”

 

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We Are Hopelessly Hooked

Photograph by Eric Pickersgill from his series ‘Removed,’ in which he shows his subjects’ attachment to their cell phones and other handheld devices by asking them to ‘hold their stare and posture’ as he removes the devices from their hands and then takes their portrait

Photograph by Eric Pickersgill from his series ‘Removed,’ in which he shows his subjects’ attachment to their cell phones and other handheld devices by asking them to ‘hold their stare and posture’ as he removes the devices from their hands and then takes their portrait.

Excerpt from this article, which discusses a range of books on digital behaviours

  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle
  • Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web, by Joseph M. Reagle Jr.
  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, by Nir Eyal with Ryan Hoover

Our transformation into device people has happened with unprecedented suddenness. The first touchscreen-operated iPhones went on sale in June 2007, followed by the first Android-powered phones the following year. Smartphones went from 10 percent to 40 percent market penetration faster than any other consumer technology in history. In the United States, adoption hit 50 percent only three years ago. Yet today, not carrying a smartphone indicates eccentricity, social marginalization, or old age.

What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines? We wouldn’t be always clutching smartphones if we didn’t believe they made us safer, more productive, less bored, and were useful in all of the ways that a computer in your pocket can be useful. At the same time, smartphone owners describe feeling “frustrated” and “distracted.” In a 2015 Pew survey, 70 percent of respondents said their phones made them feel freer, while 30 percent said they felt like a leash. Nearly half of eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds said they used their phones to “avoid others around you.”

Ignore the GPS. That Ocean Is Not a Road.

Excerpt from this article:

Earlier this month, Noel Santillan, an American tourist in Iceland, directed the GPS unit in his rental car to guide him from Keflavik International Airport to a hotel in nearby Reykjavik. Many hours and more than 250 icy miles later, he pulled over in Siglufjordur, a fishing village on the outskirts of the Arctic Circle…

Mr. Santillan shouldn’t be blamed for following directions. Siglufjordur has a road called Laugarvegur, the word Mr. Santillan — accurately copying the spelling from his hotel booking confirmation — entered in lieu of Laugavegur, a major thoroughfare in Reykjavik. The real mystery is why he persisted, ignoring road signs indicating that he was driving away from Iceland’s capital. According to this newspaper, Mr. Santillan apparently explained that he was very tired after his flight and had “put his faith in the GPS.”

Faith is a concept that often enters the accounts of GPS-induced mishaps. …

If we’re being honest, it’s not that hard to imagine doing something similar ourselves. Most of us use GPS as a crutch while driving through unfamiliar terrain, tuning out and letting that soothing voice do the dirty work of navigating. Since the explosive rise of in-car navigation systems around 10 years ago, several studies have demonstrated empirically what we already know instinctively. Cornell researchers who analyzed the behavior of drivers using GPS found drivers “detached” from the “environments that surround them.” Their conclusion: “GPS eliminated much of the need to pay attention.”

We seem driven (so to speak) to transform cars, conveyances that show us the world, into machines that also see the world for us… Could society’s embrace of GPS be eroding our cognitive maps?

Your iPhone Is Ruining Your Posture — and Your Mood

Illustration by Tim Lahan

Excerpt from this article:

If you’re in a public place, look around: How many people are hunching over a phone? Technology is transforming how we hold ourselves, contorting our bodies into what the New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August calls the iHunch. I’ve also heard people call it text neck, and in my work I sometimes refer to it as iPosture.

Posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them. In a study… compared with upright sitters, the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear.

Fortunately, there are ways to fight the iHunch. Keep your head up and shoulders back when looking at your phone, even if that means holding it at eye level. You can also try stretching and massaging the two muscle groups that are involved in the iHunch — those between the shoulder blades and the ones along the sides of the neck. This helps reduce scarring and restores elasticity.

 

Here’s a Thanksgiving treat: Device-free talk

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Photo: THINKSTOCK

Excerpt from this article, and wishing all of our colleagues in the US a happy Thanksgiving holiday weekend:

This week, millions of us will endure crowded airports and traffic jams just to sit down to dinner with people we probably can see every day on Facebook.

We are not doing it for the cranberry sauce.

We are doing it for the face time — which, wonders of technology aside, is not the same as FaceTime, texting, emailing, tweeting or any other form of electronic communion.

“Face-to-face conversation is what sustains us. It gives us a sense of connection,” says Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who leads an initiative on the social and psychological influence of technological change at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Eye contact, seeing a face, hearing a voice. Those things together give us a feeling of being cared for and caring for another person.”

Here are some of Turkle’s other tips for bringing conversation back, not just at Thanksgiving, but every day:

Create “sacred” spaces for conversation. A holiday dinner is a good place to start, but you will get more conversational mileage out of everyday family meals, car rides and walks.

Use the 7-minute rule. Give a conversation at least that long to unfold — boring bits, silences and all.

Make a point of talking to people with whom you disagree. That does not happen much online, where we sort ourselves into like-minded groups and often fear censure for saying things our friends and followers might not like.

Choose the right tool for the job. Emails and texts are extremely useful and sometimes best, but there’s no substitute for face to face when it comes to some conversations — including many of the hardest ones.

Why Grandma’s Sad (A Response to the Article on Screen Addiction)

Following up on yesterday’s post about Kids and Screen Addiction, the article excerpted below argues that “what’s happening on all these screens is not, as the writer suggests, an endless braindead Candy Crush session, but a rich social experience of its own” [link to the full write-up, and see also this post on Kottke on the debate]:

That screen is full of friends, and its distraction is no less valuable or valid than the distraction of a room full of buddies or a playground full of fellow students. Screen Addiction is, in this view, nonsensical: you can no more be addicted to a screen than to windows, sounds, or the written word.

This is an argument worth making, probably. But tell it to an anxious parent or an alienated grandparent and you will sense that it is inadequate. It is correct, yes, and it addresses their stated concerns. But those concerns—that the screens are poisoning families, that they’re making kids unhealthy and sedentary, that they’re destroying curiosity—were never really the issue. Screen Addiction is a generational complaint, and generational complaints, taken individually, are rarely what they claim to be. They are fresh expressions of horrible and timeless anxieties.

…The grandparent who is persuaded that screens are not destroying human interaction, but are instead new tools for enabling fresh and flawed and modes of human interaction, is left facing a grimmer reality. Your grandchildren don’t look up from their phones because the experiences and friendships they enjoy there seem more interesting than what’s in front of them (you). Those experiences, from the outside, seem insultingly lame: text notifications, Emoji, selfies of other bratty little kids you’ve never met. But they’re urgent and real. What’s different is that they’re also right here, always, even when you thought you had an attentional claim. The moments of social captivity that gave parents power, or that gave grandparents precious access, are now compromised.

All of this reminds me of a book that I read years ago, Everything Bad is Good For You, by Steven Johnson, who made a similar argument that parents were misguided in bemoaning the ways in which their kids were devoting rapt attention to TV and video games, i.e., what if a kid was spending hours sitting sedentary, reading a book? would they be as concerned?