019 - on phone dependency and teens

A rant from a friend: You spent more than 4 hours on the computer and dementia is coming for you at an alarming fast rate. All these devices are doing nothing for us, just making us stupid. We are screwed.

I agree with her generalization that phones make us stupid. We have fewer opportunities to train our memory. Remembering shopping lists, phone numbers, appointments are easy ways to keep your brain in shape. Without downloading an app, paying a coach, or putting time aside for it, you can train your brain. You could say it's effortless. But why are we not doing it?

My main beef with technology, specifically phones, is that they make living too easy. All those daily activities we did 10 or 20 years ago and are still doing now are too easy to execute. If I want to go to town, I don't have to remember the bus timetable, I just open Google Maps, tell it when I want to be downtown and it informs me about various routes I can take. As a teen, just by traveling through town I knew the routes of at least 15 different bus or tram lines. Something my richer peers, who relied on Mum and Dad to bring them to places, couldn't.

It's the convenience that is all around, constantly at our fingertips, that makes us stupid.

But there is also something else the phones and the apps on it destroy. Freya India puts it well in After Babel, Ironically, I discovered it thanks to Katherine who shared it on a social app.

And the freedom—we never felt the freedom to grow up clumsily; to be young and dumb and make stupid mistakes without fear of it being posted online. Or the freedom to be unavailable, to disconnect for a while without the pressure of Read Receipts and Last Active statuses. We never knew a childhood spent chasing experiences and risks and independence instead of chasing stupid likes on a screen. Never knew life without documenting and marketing and obsessively analyzing it as we went.

Freya went on to describe that what her generation is grieving is "Delayed gratification. Deeper connection. Play and fun. Risk and thrill. Life with less obsessive self-scrutiny." And I'm left wondering how did we end up here. Not enough parenting? Too much peer pressure? Too much sucked into work that phones are just the easiest answer to all our problems?

With a phone in the hand, the child is quiet. Even our parents knew that TV is a great baby sitter. But what we see as a nuisance and societal problem, the phone, for teens it often became their playground. It's a rite of passage getting one and shattering it's screen. Kids goof around using different mediums than we do, they develop a new language we can't follow. There's a semi-secret code of emojis and an alarming practice of account and phone sharing. Some weird things my kids do

  • They have shared Instagram accounts with friends. They each know the password and collectively add pictures to it.

  • They create video and photo collages, not just for TikTok but also to share via Whatsapp

  • They are in far too many Whatsapp groups (I hate them)

  • They use Whatsapp status and checkin on each other status (I never do that)

  • They share homework via Whatsapp (ok, that's smart)

  • They let you create an account on their phone if mum/dad doesn't allow you to use app XYZ (yeah...she confessed)

Of course there's also a bad side to phones: the rumors that are spreading like wild-fire thanks to social media, the pictures and videos you want others to delete but even in GDPR-land that law is toothless in those Gen Z and Alpha circles. The police gives semi-annual talks in schools about internet safety but it doesn't stick.

The answer to all of this isn't forbidding phones or blocking apps, but it's a drip-drop of information that - hopefully - isn't filed directly as "another mum lecture". Ojala, something will stick.

And you know what, I'll bet that after traveling for 6 weeks within hours of coming back home, while being completely sleep deprived kid#1 (14y) and kid#2 (12y) will be out of the door to hang with their friends. Even though they've chatted with them daily during their vacation.

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