Digital Technology: Burden or Benefit?

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Are your kids busy developing applications? If the teens who attended the recent Apple Developers Conference are any indication, there’s a lot of development being done by teens. But, even as young people join the ranks of app developers, there’s growing concern about the dependence of kids—and adults—on technology. Many people can’t go an hour, let alone a day, without their digital devices.

MIT professor and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle has extensively studied how technology, and especially mobile communication, is changing how people relate to one another and construct their own inner lives. In her book Alone Together and her TED talk, she expresses her concern that our devices are so psychologically powerful that they change not just what we do but also who we are. She fears that we’re allowing technology to take us places we don’t want to go.

If you or your kids are addicted to the online world, Susan Maushart’s The Winter of Our Disconnect shows that doing the impossible is sometime possible. Maushart and her three teenagers, all addicted to their devices, pulled the plug on technology for six full months. They undertook what they called the “Experiment,” which included unplugging—from laptops and smart phones and the TV and iPod.

True, the rules of the Experiment allowed Maushart and her kids to use digital devices at the library, friends’ houses, and elsewhere, but their home became a digital-free zone. As the Experiment progressed, the kids’ grades improved, they acquired hobbies and played board games, the family had meals together, and they slept better. They even—imagine this—had actual conversations with each other. Although they missed their devices, none of them went stark raving mad without them. On the contrary, they flourished.

In “Hamlet’s Blackberry,” author William Powers advises those whose lives have been overtaken by digital devices to recognize that fact, take responsibility for it, and do something about it. For Powers and his family, that entailed “doing without” on weekends. That’s a far cry from the six-month break from technology taken by Susan Maushart and her family. But, for the Powers family, the “weekend off” became a positive, important, and ongoing practice.

What about you? Can you go a month without your digital devices? A weekend? How about just the next hour?

Maybe your kids can develop an app to help you.

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Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a writer and speaker who draws from her background in both psychology and IT. Naomi's recent books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions and Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. Naomi is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com.