Mar 10, 2010

Technology and children

It is a cliché to say that children today are smarter than the earlier generation. It is seen to be true in most fields, but especially in technology. Children are exposed to a bewildering range of new devices such as the cellphone, computers etc. As a parent it is difficult and almost impossible to keep a determined child from being addicted to technology.

Thankfully, so far, Samu isn’t into video/internet games in a big way. She can search Google on her own. She can play music. She watches carefully and then intuitively picks up how to do most of the complicated steps. Now, she wants an email id. Some of her peers are said to have Facebook, Orkut and Twitter accounts.

Professor Susan Greenfield, specialist in brain degeneration, believes that given the time young people spend gazing into screens, small and large, about 6 to 9 hours daily, their brains are developing differently from those of previous generations. Her main concern is that computer games could be giving more importance to “process” as opposed to “content. The more we play games, there is less time for learning specific facts and working out how those facts relate to each other. Suppose, the purpose of a game is to free the princess from the tower, it is the thrill of attaining the goal, the process, that counts. What does not count is the content- the personality of the princess and the narrative as to why and how she is there, as in a storybook.

She says that process in isolation becomes addictive. It reduces activation in the prefrontal cortex, and, thus tips the balance away from awareness of the significance, the meaning, of our actions. So, games in which I kill lots of people with my sword, deals not with the significance of killing and injuring lots of villains, but with the process- the action separated from meaning and consequences.

The ultimate triumph of process over content, she says, can result in the Nobody scenario. Individuality could be eliminated in favor of a passive state, reacting to a flood of incoming sensations- a ‘yuck’ and ‘wow’ mentality. The importance is on momentary experience. The landscape of the brain shifts to one where personalized brain connectivity is either not functional or absent altogether. Scary, isn’t it ?

Coming back to Samu and her demand for an email id, all rational reasons were stoutly opposed. Finally, she was given access to one of her mom’s email id. It was thrilling to watch her as she shot off the first email in her life to her friend in the same building with ‘I am bored. What are you doing?’ followed by a phone call. She promptly got a response ‘ I am also bored’.

Seeing me blog, she now wants a blog of her own. To which I responded, Be my guest!


  1. sekhar said...
    'yuck and wow mentality'is a terrific description, sir:)
    gopakumar said...
    Hmmm reduction of activity in the frontal cortex. My take on this is that mother nature most likely plans to reverse the process of evolution slowly making man more of the animal he was until we finish each other off! No big bang for us like the dinosaurs.

    If Samu is into technology let her do her thing as long it keeps her happy. I usually let Avinash do whatever he wants as long as it does not involve disturbing my sleep or poking me with a sharp object. (Varsha if you are reading this Avi usually jabs sticks or pencils into furniture and uses them as a gear knob for the imaginary Merc he is driving)

    If we look at things from the perspective of nature's time clock which is millions of years we are guests on this planet for just a blink of an eyelid so whatever we do nature will take its own course. So live for the moment and ENJOY!
    varsha panicker said...
    SN, you must thank Samu for giving you enough topics to blog on :) I think computers and Xbox and other tech games stifle imagination - kids and in grown-ups alike. But then, these are also changing times and kids need to be equipped to handle technology - maybe not the games.

    @Gopuchetta, hasn't Avi seen a RR yet? why stop at Merc? :) but i like the theory of reverse evolution. It has a touch of 'vengeance' - nature having the last laugh!
    Suresh said...

    I agree they are terrific descriptions but they are Professor Susan's descriptions. Samu uses 'yucksie' and thus it has already entered the lingo of present day children.


    Reverse evolution- sounds interesting. Maybe it is like other cycles in nature like 'seasons' as we go back from man to monkey (the process is already at an advanced stage!)


    Yes, so far Samu is a safe target. But she is also becoming self conscious and inclined to present a good image. Where will I then go for topics?

    I have seen kids become totally addicted to Xbox etc. to the point of not having interest in anything else and that is not healthy.
    Shekhar Veera said...
    Interesting observation here regarding process and content! However the observation need not be limited to the domain of computer games! In fact, the more I reflect on it, it appears to me that society is replete with examples of processes where content and significance matters little. Start with our own education itself, where as school kids, we were 'taught' little else other than memorizing large tracts of texts with the sole purpose of passing exams with the highest possible grade! Rote memorization of formulas and scientific texts, which I could hardly relate to. History taught with little regard to the context and signficance. Education at least when I was studying, was little more than a game! Not sure it has changed much, except that we now have computer aids, where we had 'guide books'! In all probability education still is pretty much a game for kids, and probably even less fun than a computer game. Think about processes around you,and many more examples will readily come to mind here....!!

    Suresh said...
    Yes, Shekhar, there are many areas where process predominates content. Take films, for example. Commercial films take the formula process route to success. McDonald has perfected the process of making burger relegating content and taste to the background.

    The fact is that it is easier and more productive to hide behind processes churning out films, burgers etc. One has to be creative and patient to extract content and significance but it is definitely fulfilling in the long run.
    Jazzy said...
    Gr8!!! It seems Samu is finally decided to step into the world of digital kids.
    I feel if kids are taught the doctrine of good ergonomics for using computers when they're juvenile, then those will become way of life to guard them throughout their life, thus the potential dangers allied to numerous trends associated with the ubiquity of computers, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, social networking, and whatever the next hi-tech vogue might be can be avoided.

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