Mar 10, 2010

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!