This is the final post of a three-part series about technology addiction. Part I focuses on technology addiction in adults. Part 2 focuses on technology addiction in children. This post, Part 3, focuses on technology’s effect on society and how to achieve a healthy balance.
In a recent Ted talk, Juan Enriquez asked the question, Will our kids be a different species? The talk is about the evolution of the human species, which seems on the surface to be unrelated to technology addiction. But near the end of the talk, Enriquez suggests that the human brain is rapidly evolving right now. Information overload is one of several possible reasons he suggests for this development, noting that people today are taking in as much information in a day as people used to take in during a lifetime.
To support his argument, Enriquez points to the extraordinary increase in the number of people with Autism, which he says has increased 78% in less than 10 years. Autism creates individuals who are hyper-perceptive, hyper-mnemonic, and hyper-active—just what we might need to deal with information overload. Enriquez suggests that increases in the numbers of people with schizophrenia, photographic memory, and other types of unusual mental capabilities could be additional signs of our evolution.
When you think about it, it only makes sense that the human brain would be working hard to find a way to deal with the bombardment of information it is receiving on a daily basis. After all, our adaptability is the reason that we still exist on this planet. We must continue to evolve, but what will we evolve into?
Enriquez suggests that we are evolving into Homo Evolutis, which he describes as a species that “directly and deliberately controls its own evolution and that of many other species.” (Note: If you want to read more about Juan Enriquez’s theories, check out his book on the topic, Homo Evolutis.)
Is this frightening? I’m not sure. In some ways, we have been moving in this direction for a long time. Consider, for example, all of the different breeds of dogs and varieties of fruits and vegetables that did not exist before humans began domesticating and “improving” them. After all, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts all came from cabbage because of human selection and cultivation.
From there, it is not such a leap to say that because of the technologies we have invented and the information overload we experience, we are changing our own brains.
“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
Someone recently told me that our attention to iPhones is no different than reading the newspaper was years ago. But people generally read the paper in the morning, with a cup of coffee, and then they were done. They did not check back for updates while driving, having dinner with friends, watching a championship baseball game, or having a baby. They were not addicted to the newspaper.
I know we can’t go back. We are different now. Our own technology has changed us. We need constant input and crave instant gratification. But all is not lost…we have some control, remember? We have free will. We can change our behaviors. We don’t have to become cyborgs. We must figure out how to help our children (and ourselves) find a healthy balance between technology use and interacting with the physical world and each other.
Like many other pleasures in our world, exciting new technologies are not bad. They only become a problem when they are overused and abused. Cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter can be used to stay in touch and truly be helpful. But they must be used in moderation, to encourage and support relationships rather than distract us from each other.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for establishing a healthy balance for yourself and your family:
- Get outside. Spend time in nature, or at least outside in the backyard or at a nearby park. Research shows that time spent in natural settings has many positive effects on both adults and children. And of course we all know that children need to spend time with their parents. If you need help thinking of activities to do outside in your area, check out The Children & Nature Network’s nature clubs for families. You can join an existing group in your area or use their support materials to start a new group. If you are more adventurous, plan a backpacking or camping trip to a national park. Remember, no cell phones or iPods allowed!
- Limit screen time. Set specific limits for video game, TV, computer, and iPhone time – for yourself and for your kids. If you are imposing limits on your children but still checking email on your iPhone at the dinner table, you need to change your habits. Children will follow your example better than your rules. Consider canceling your cable TV subscription. Since we canceled ours last April, I’ve seen my children fight less and play more imaginative games together. We have even played board games as a family a few times. We get news through the Internet, and we still have our big screen TV for movies. You don’t have to go “cold turkey;” you just need to find a healthy balance.
- Go to Church. Church is not just about religion; it is also about community. Yes, you can listen to sermons on your iPod now, but it doesn’t compare to being there. If you have not attended church for a while, it might feel awkward at first. But remember you are doing this to reconnect to God and to your community. And you are doing it for your children too. Consider introducing your children to a youth group if one is available.
- Join the 26 Acts of Kindness movement. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting last week, Ann Curry started an idea that has spread quickly – doing an act of kindness in memory of each victim. Though this is not necessarily related to technology addiction, doing this with your children (or on your own) is a great way to reconnect with people and practice compassion. It certainly could help battle technology addiction, especially if acts of kindness become a habit after the 26 acts are done. If you would like to take this step, here is a Word document I created with one card to pass out with each act of kindness. Each card includes a victim’s name and a number so that you can easily see your progress. The cards also have a note to the receiver to encourage them to do an act of kindness for someone else.
- Volunteer. I know it is hard to find time to volunteer when you are working and raising children. But maybe you can find just two or three days a year that you could volunteer for a few hours with your children. You can plant trees, help neighbors, or serve food at a soup kitchen. Any little bit will help you and your children connect with people and balance out your connection to machines.
- Join Scouts. I know the Boy Scouts have had some legal issues lately, but if you have a son, I encourage you to at least investigate your local scout troop and consider participating in scouts. Scouting encourages boys to take action: to build, hike, and help. It teaches strong morals and values. And it also provides activities that are very hands on—and not on a keypad.
- Have a Game Night. Buy a couple of fun, family board games and choose one night a week (or month) as family game night. Leave the television and iPad off, and play games for an hour or two. Enjoy your family.
- Build a Fort. Fort building is great fun and kids of almost all ages love it. You can get fancy and build an awesome tree house together, or you can just spend an hour putting together a simple fort in the back yard. Indoor forts are fun too. If you don’t have time, remember that sometimes kids just need you to make a suggestion to get them started.
- Walk the Dog. The dog needs a walk and so do you. Use the time you walk the dog to unplug. Don’t put on your iPod or check text messages while you are walking. It’s your time. If you can, invite your spouse, children, or friend to join you. This can be a time to connect, rather than a necessary chore. (Try hiking, jogging, or trail running for variation!)
- Romance Your Spouse. The pace of life is so fast today that parents—and even single people—often don’t make time for romance. Romance is showing someone that you care. It is a connection. It does not have to be expensive. Simply taking a walk hand in hand or sharing a quiet moment by the first can be romantic. Make a pledge to do something romantic with your spouse or significant other—with no electronics allowed—once a week.
Since it would be difficult to do all of these at once, just choose a few that best fit your needs and the needs of your family. Then pass these ideas on to your friends and neighbors. Let’s fight technology addiction by limiting our use and connecting to our families, God, nature, and our community.